Thursday, April 14, 2005

“I have yet to meet a poetry-lover who was not an introvert, or an introvert who was not unhappy in adolescence. At school, particularly, maybe, if, as in my own case, it is a boarding school, he sees the extrovert successful, happy, and good and himself unpopular or neglected; and what is hardest to bear is not unpopularity, but the consciousness that it is deserved, that he is grubby and inferior and frightened and dull. Knowing no other kind of society than the contingent, he imagines that this arrangement is part of the eternal scheme of things, that he is doomed to a life of failure and envy. It is not till he grows up, till years later he runs across the heroes of his school days and finds them grown commonplace and sterile, that he realizes that the introvert is the lucky one, the best adapted to an industrial civilization, the collective values of which are so infantile that he alone can grow, who has educated his phantasies and learned how to draw upon the resources of his inner life. At the time however his adolescence is unpleasant enough. Unable to imagine a society in which he would feel at home, and warned by some mysterious instinct from running back for consolation to the gracious or terrifying figures of childhood, he turns away from the human to the non-human: homesick he will seek, not his mother, but mountains or autumn woods, friendless he will mutely observe the least shy of the wild animals, and the growing life within him will express itself in a devotion to music and thoughts upon mutability and death. Art for him will be something infinitely precious, pessimistic, and hostile to life. If it speaks of love, it must be love frustrated, for all success seems to him noisy and vulgar; if it moralizes, it must counsel a stoic resignation, for the world he knows is well content with itself and will not change.”
-W.H. Auden, “A Literary Transference” (Southern Review, Summer 1940)

ViaTerry Teachout

In addition to reading more in general, and reading poetry more specifically, I definitely need to read more Auden. I think I've only read his poem in memory of Yeats. "Time that is intolerant/Of the brave and innocent/And indifferent in a week/To a beautiful physique/Worships language, and forgives/Every one by whom it lives." I quite enjoy the poetry of Joseph Brodsky, a devotee of both Auden and the ideas expressed in the eulogy to Yeats. Certainly language is mediated through history, but the best of it has a way of escaping all-aging, all-devouring time. Cf. Shakespeare's Sonnet 17 and, of course, the prologue to the Gospel of John.

I do question that part about introversion making one "hostile to life." Perhaps Auden's full essay would expand on that idea.

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