Great Book: the poems of W. H. Auden

Poetry's not usually my bag. But I'm doing this to stretch the old noggin, so I'll try not to complain. Since I read so quickly, I find it difficult to slow down my eyes and mind and enjoy the rhythms. I try to find audio books of poetry whenever I can. Because readers talk more slowly than I read, I tend to get more out of it.

The Voice of the Poet series from Random House is an excellent series of poems read by the distinguished and mostly dead authors themselves. (Never before released recordings!)

I found the Five American Women volume annoying; this Auden collection was much more consistent and enjoyable. He has a wonderful speaking voice. I never felt like I had to get past the performance to the words. And the work is accessible. It even rhymes! Yay, expectations fulfilled!

The overwhelming impression I have of Auden is that he's depressed. We're all going to die eventually, life sucks, people are stupid and frustrating. It was funny, witty, work, but with a despairing, exasperated tone to it.

My favorite individual work was one of the lighter ones, a poem written for Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard in 1946 about the return to college of the veterans of World War II and the coming battle between Apollo and Hermes (knowledge and truth). It seems to fit right in with my recent discussion of academia. It ends with the Hermetic Decalogue:

Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis
On education,
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much

Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.

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