W.H. Auden died on this day.
MA: What about Ginsberg’s parody (of you)? I only mention it because you wrote that to parody successfully you have to like the style you are parodying.
WA: I didn’t know he had written one. Where is it?
MA: In (his) Indian Journals
WA: Oh you should have brought it. I would have liked to see it.
MA: Have you met Ginsberg?
WA: Yes, I like him. I don’t care for his poetry.
Allen – from the essay, “Remembering Auden” (first published in The Drummer, 1974):
“We met first at Earl Hall, Columbia University, 1945, when he read to students. I accompanied him on the subway to Sheridan Square, wondering if he’d invite me to his Cornelia Street apartment and seduce me. He didn’t. Years later in Ischia, at a garden table, 1957 I said I thought that there was a social revolution at hand, he poo-pooed it, and I drunkenly yelled at him indignant, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself discouraging young hope and energy!”. I was outraged, intemperate, tipsy and self-righteous. Oddly, years later, he apologized to me for having been too off-handed with me. Actually, I’d made pilgrimage to Ischia to him and I’d intruded at his restaurant wine leisure dusk.
Auden was very funny, sort of generous but fussy. In the ‘sixties, I used to go visit him every year or two, have tea. Soon after I came back from India, I went to see him with a harmonium and started singing Hare Krishna and various mantras and he sat and listened, but he was uncomfortable, like pinned wriggling to the wall, and having to be polite and really mind-wandering and not really interested in my great display of knowledge, because I was laying this trip on him.
The next time I went to see him I brought my harmonium wanting to sing some Blake songs. He said “Oh no no no no, I just can’t stand people singing to me like that,makes me terribly embarrassed. I can’t sit here and have people singing. I’m quiet and prefer to listen to them in a concert hall, or on a record. Don’t sing, have some tea, have some tea, please, you’ll embarrass me”.
I think he got a little bit silly. When he was last in New York he was doing some work with a cartoonist making some funny little poems. So instead of my singing to him, he wanted me to look at those. I was full of big serious mantras and Blake and spiritual trippiness and he wanted me to look at all those little household domestic verses about how silly and comfy the Victorians were. Summer 1973 in London, we all read together – Basil Bunting and Auden and myself and (Hugh) MacDiarmid at Queen Elizabeth Hall and he read some really great poems saying farewell to his body, farewell to his eyes, to his senses one by one, evaluating them and putting them in place, dissociating himself from permanent identification with his senses, and preparing his soul to meet his ultimate empty nature God. So there was an individualistic, solitary complete objectivity that he arrived at.
Apparently, he was very domestic but his apartment was a complete mess, there were papers all over, books piled up on end tables and shelves, just like a real artist’s.
I had a couple of funny run-ins with him different times, and always had a very uneasy time with him. I always felt like a fool, trying to lay a trip on him culture-political or otherwise. Once we had a big happy agreement about marijuana should be legalized. He said, “Liquor is much worse, quite right, quite right. I do think…end all this fuss”.
He must have been lonely because he said he was afraid he’d drop dead in his apartment and have a heart-attack and nobody would find him. Quite true because he did have a final heart attack a year later. I don’t know if he encouraged local friendliness or not, but every time I called him up, he’d make a date for about a week later, and he’d be there and be expecting me and have tea ready.”
(This essay appears also in the invaluable Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995)
Auden’s 1972 New York 92nd Street Y reading may be heard in its entirety here. His Paris Review interview (from that same year) is here
Various other poems are available here (via the Academy of American poets site) and here and here (via the BBC)
For a full and informative documentary (made posthumously in 2007), “combining telling events in the life of W.H.Auden with (invaluable) interviews from the tv and radio archives and extracts from (his) poetry, notebooks, letters and journals”, we’d recommend “The Addictions of Sin: W.H.Auden In His Own Words” (in six parts, the first part’s here).