Saturday, January 25, 2014

`His Heroic Abundance'

With the latest news out of Syria, I thought of Auden’s lines: “When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, / And when he cried the little children died in the streets.” And while rereading the late poems in Timoleon I thought of Auden’s lines:  “Evil is unspectacular and always human, / And shares our bed and eats at our own table.” And almost daily I think of “Let a florid music praise” from a song cycle L.E. Sissman calls “among the greatest lyrics in the language.” Auden has a way of suffusing his sound and sense into the fabric of memory, a quality he shares with Shakespeare and Larkin. We sense he knows us before we know ourselves, and often forgives us. Such wisdom is more often associated with prose – Marcus Aurelius, Montaigne and Johnson. Cynthia Ozick, too, has forged a peculiarly intimate bond with Auden: 

His politics is metaphysics, his metaphysics is history, his history is humanity adrift in a labyrinth of its own making. In his heroic abundance he will catch hold of any form—or invent a new one—to assess, judge, condemn, praise, ruminate, fulminate, love; and once, in the name of literature, forgive.” 

And she celebrates the Age of Auden, before things fell apart: 

“…form, in those disparaged fifties, meant difficulty in the doing; meant the hard practice of virtuosity; meant the plumbing of language for all its metamorphoses and undiscovered metrics; meant the heritage of knowledge; meant, in order to aspire to limitlessness, the pressure of limits—rhyme, even rhyme, a thing of wit and brio, never an archaism. Poetry then had not yet fallen into its present slough of trivia and loss of encompassment, the herding of random images of minuscule perspective leading to a pipsqueak epiphany, a delirium of incoherence delivered, monotone upon monotone, in the cacophony of a slam.” 

And here, writing of her unexpected reverence for the poet, she might be writing of another of her masters, Saul Bellow: 

“Auden is a poet—no, the poet—of unembarrassed intellect. Ideas are his emotions, emotions are his ideas. His successors and inheritors can be named in an uncommonly short list—contemporary poets for whom the lyrical ear and the all-seeing eye and the mind in fever are entwined with the breath and breadth of the world; and to whom history, that multitudinous ghost, is no stranger.”

1 comment:

Guy Walker said...

Love Ozick' s wonderful prose. As we live in an age where the intellect is an embarrassment, love her 'Auden is the poet of unembarrassed intellect.'She goes on with 'his ideas are his emotions - his emotions are his ideas.' This is a just refutation of Eliot' s suggestion that sensibility dissociated in the 17th century. The association of sensibility is what poetry is. Ozick is saying that Auden was living proof of this.