Auden on the Art of Poetry

3970_TN_auden-whFrom the archives of the Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER: What are the worst lines you know—preferably by a great poet?

AUDEN: I think they occur in Thomas Hardy’s The Dynasts, in which Napoleon tries to escape from Elba. There’s a quatrain which goes like this:

Should the corvette arrive
With the aging Scotch colonel,
Escape would be frustrate,
Retention eternal.

That’s pretty hard to beat!

INTERVIEWER: How about Yeats’ “Had de Valera eaten Parnell’s heart” or Eliot’s “Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings”?

AUDEN: Those aren’t bad, really, just unintentionally comic. Both would have made wonderful captions for a Thurber cartoon. As an undergraduate at Oxford I came up with one: “Isobel with her leaping breasts / Pursued me through a summer . . .” Think what a marvelous cartoon Thurber could have done to that! Whoops! Whoops! Whoops!

INTERVIEWER: What’s your least favorite Auden poem?

AUDEN: “September 1, 1939.” And I’m afraid it’s gotten into a lot of anthologies.

INTERVIEWER: Of which poem are you proudest?

AUDEN: It occurs in my commentary on Shakespeare’s Tempest, a poem written in prose, a pastiche of the late Henry James— “Caliban’s Speech to the Audience.”

[H/t: Maeve Adams]