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Nones de W. H. Auden
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Nones (edició 1951)

de W. H. Auden

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[Nones] - W. H. Auden
When this collection of poetry was published in 1951, many people considered Auden to be the greatest living poet, however some would claim that his best poetry was behind him and that he had to some extent lost his voice when war was declared in 1939. I am no expert on Auden's poetry only dipping in to various poems in anthologies and such like. My impression is that Auden is a poet of many faces for example some poems can be almost childlike in their simplicity and rhyming patterns with a sing-song like quality, while others can be wilfully obscure with no discernible structure and almost everything else in between. What is palpably obvious was that Auden was always in control of his technical ability and if the poems were open to interpretation then that was part of the process. I was excited then to read a collection of his later poems that he had put together for publication.

The collection starts with an introductory poem seemingly a dedication and entitled "To Reinhold and Ursula Niebuhr" The Niebuhr's were academics and theologians and were in correspondence with Auden over a number of years and especially at a time when Auden had returned to Christianity. They were also like Auden making a new life for themselves in America. The poem starts with the line;

"We, too, had known golden hours,"

and ends with the quatrain

"And where should we find shelter
For joy or mere content
When little was left standing
But the suburbs of dissent."


Auden knew that some of his devotees and critics were after him, but in this collection he seems not to care, producing a few of the more simple nursery type poems along with those where a dictionary of obscure/antiquated words would be helpful. What is evident is that many of the poems have a religious quality about them, a basic christian believe in God. This rarely becomes so overt that it feels like preaching, but many of the poems have this belief at their heart.

It would seem that most of the poems had been written during the period 1948-51 and so the big event in many people lives was a readjustment after the end of the second world war and Auden whatever one could accuse him of was never a poet to cocoon himself from current events and so this collection of a moment in time reflects the poets thought and fears for humanity first, and himself second. There are some wonderful poems in this collection there are also some that I don't pretend to understand and others that I just don't like, but most have that technical quality that makes them a joy to read. What is typical of the poet for me is that a poem will open with an idea that stimulates my imagination and then as it goes on I find myself getting lost as where it is going, stopping to think is an absolute requirement in a poem like "In Praise of Limestone" which seems to have a theme of the loss of innocence. I love some of the individual lines, but cannot always see the connection. I found myself looking at an analysis of the poem by other readers on the internet and discovered that they were as clueless as me. There is so much packed into those lines that an overall understanding is difficult and left me with the conclusion that I would probably read the poem differently every time I re-read it. Perhaps not a bad thing.

There were plenty of poems that I really enjoyed "Not in Baedeker" where the speaker reminisces about a town that was once the centre for a huge lead mine, but now after a relatively few decades the only evidence of the mine itself is in the contours of the landscape. It is an ugly looking poem but spoke to me because I lived for a time in an old lead mining village. "Ischia" is a homage to Southern Italy and the pleasures for a visitor but Auden warns:

"Nothing is free, whatever your charge shall be paid
That these days of exotic splendour may stand out
In each lifetime like marble
Mileposts in an alluvial land"


"The fall of Rome' where each stanza is a vignette of the fall of civilization. The 'Managers' which muses on those sometime faceless people that have control over your destiny. 'A Household' where the "man" of the house believes his own lies. The 'Duet' is another of my favourite poems. The speaker contrasts a singer of classical music giving a recital in a warm rich household while outside in the cold winter a scrawny beggar is an organ grinder:

“But to her gale
Of sorrow from the moonstruck darkness
That ragged runagate opposed his spark”


The title poem "Nones" is one of the more difficult poems to come to grips with as a whole, but each stanza deals with an aspect of humanity's shortcomings and ends with the thought that although we can heal ourselves ; death is coming. The collection ends with two absolute crackers. "The Precious Five Senses" where Auden devotes a stanza each to Nose-smell, Ears-hearing, sight-seeing, tongue-women (oops), hands-touch and brings these all together in a final stanza. The poem is both witty and thought provoking in equal measure; here is the opening lines to the stanza on ears:

Be modest, lively ears,
Spoiled Darlings of the stage
Where any caper cheers
The paranoic mind
Of this undisciplined
And concert-going age,
So lacking in conviction
It cannot take pure fiction
And what it wants from you
Are rumours partly true`


A Walk after Dark the final poem sounds personal to me; readers of poetry are encouraged to think of a neutral speaker as the voice of the poem, but in this instance It is personal:

"Now, unready to die
But already at the stage
When one starts to dislike the young
I am glad those points in the sky
May also be counted among
The creatures of middle age."


The poet takes a walk and looks up at the stars and thinks about the state of the world, and his own place in it, but it ends with a note of uncertainty eased by his new friends in his adopted country:

"But the stars burn overhead,
Unconscious of final ends,
As I walk home to bed,
Asking what judgement waits
My person, all my friends,
And these United States."


Writing about and reliving some of these poems is surely what reading is all about. Another great publication from 1951 and a five star read ( )
3 vota baswood | Jan 2, 2021 |
Vintage Auden: quiet and often ironic, carefully observational and graceful. This collection includes some occasional poems, as well as stand alone poems that are recognizably Auden for readers familiar with his more famous works. Highly recommended either for the reader who pursues the collection as whole or simply reads the occasional poems. ( )
  whitewavedarling | Dec 27, 2010 |
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