Jed Perl and Morgan Meis in The Easel:
Morgan Meis (MM): Jed, your new book, Authority and Freedom*, has come out in the last few weeks. Congratulations! In it, right near the end, you give this lovely quote from WH Auden, from his poem about Yeats:
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making…
That’s a nice strong quote. Can you saying something about what you think the quote means and how it relates to the argument in your book.
Jed Perl (JP): I’m glad to. These are lines – great lines — that many people know. They were written not long after Yeats died, and they grew out of the tension that Auden felt between Yeats’s art and Yeats’s politics – and, more generally, a tension between what we look for in art and what we look for in the rest of life. Auden in the 1930’s was very much a man of the left. Yeats, who had been a socialist in his younger days, was by the time of his death a man of the right. He was very interested in a quasi-fascist organization, the Blue Shirts, that was having an impact in Yeats’s beloved Ireland. So, for Auden, there was a conflict: he admired the poet but there were things about the man that he found deeply disquieting.
It’s worth remembering that the time when Auden wrote “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” – 1939 – was in many ways very much like ours.