Week 324: From ‘The Cave of Making’, by W.H.Auden

This excerpt from a longer, slightly rambling elegy for Auden’s friend Louis MacNeice seems even more likely to strike a chord with practitioners of poetry today than when it was written back in the sixties. A slightly dangerous chord maybe: its proud stance too easily tipping over into a disdain for the common reader and a retreat into the obscurantism that goes some of the way towards explaining the common reader’s alienation from poetry in the first place. Yet when all is said and done poets must still reconcile any distaste they may have for elitism with a desire to render a true account, a desire that they may feel to be largely lacking in the culture that surrounds them, and in the end may feel that they have no choice but to continue broadcasting on their own channel even though no one, it seems, is tuning in to listen… 

From ‘The Cave of Making’

Who would, for preference,
be a bard in an oral culture,
obliged at drunken feasts to improvise a eulogy
of some beefy illiterate burner,
giver of rings, or depend for bread on the moods of a
Baroque Prince, expected,
like his dwarf, to amuse? After all, it’s rather a privilege
amid the affluent traffic
to serve this unpopular art which cannot be turned into
background noise for study
or hung as a status trophy by rising executives,
cannot be ‘done’ like Venice
or abridged like Tolstoy, but stubbornly still insists upon
being read or ignored: our handful
of clients at least can rune.

W.H.Auden

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