Precocious five: a little Auden at Lent

by Kim on February 19, 2010

His thoughts pottered
from verses to sex to God
without punctuation.

He woke in the small hours,
dismayed by a wilderness
of hostile thoughts.

Few can remember
clearly when innocence came
to a sudden end,
the moment at which we ask
for the first time: Am I loved?

Passing Beauty
still delights him, but he no longer
has to turn around.

Thoughts of his own death,
like the distant roll
of thunder at a picnic.

From Marginalia

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


Pam 02.23.10 at 5:02 am

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
William Carlos Williams


Kim 02.23.10 at 4:44 pm

Yeah, Pam, that’s a great WCW quote. Thanks!

One of the things that is so impressive about Auden, however, GREAT poet that he is, is his modesty about what poetry can - and can’t - do. For example, he thought that the liturgy can change people in a way that poetry never can. Or his reflection:

it’s as well at times
To be reminded that nothing is lovely,
Not even in poetry, which is not the case.

Nevertheless, as Alan Jacobs suggests, Auden gave to good poetry “a genuine and important role, as it points beyond itself in a strangely mute witness to that which it is unable definitively to speak.” Perhaps like good theology?


Pam 02.23.10 at 9:36 pm

Thanks, Kim. The best description that I’ve read about poetry recently was by Australian poet Robert Gray : “the payload of poetry is emotion. Poetry enters the reader through the mind; but then, if it’s any good, it drops down to the body. A good poem elicits a bodily response…poetry is a form of art, of course, and the purpose of art is the education of the senses.”
Good theology does much more than that.

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