The same Time issue toasted James Joyce as the greatest writer or the 20th century, and that's when I bought Dubliners, a book of his short stories. But trust me, I shall never buy Ulysses no matter how rich I feel. I would rather have people write a thesis on Ganga Mail 50 years from now than spend 50 days trying to read a book that literature students are still dissecting to earn their doctorates.
But a few years ago, from the Crossword in Delhi's South Extension, I did buy a slim collection of Auden: Rs 357 for a book that barely ran into 50 pages. I bought it because I felt drawn towards the picture of Auden Time had carried in the issue I mentioned (I did not know then that he was a homesexual): a man with a wrinkled and rugged face holding a cigarette. I had wanted to look like that when I was much older. Anyway, I went through his poems and was very impressed -- doesn't matter if I don't remember any of them.
Auden caught my attention once again last month, when the London Times, to mark his centenary year, republished his views on writing. An extract:
"A girl whose boyfriend starts writing her love poems should be on her guard. Perhaps he really does love her, but one thing is certain: while he was writing his poems he was not thinking of her but of his own feelings of her and that is suspicious."
But isn't that how the world is? We hope and pray that our parents and siblings and spouses are fit and healthy, not just because we want them to be fit and healthy, but mainly because we worry about the agony we will go through if they are not. It's a selfish world. The girl should be grateful that the boyfriend has at least a feel for her. His feeling is the measurement of love. If he is completely consumed by her, there would be no feeling. There would be no poetry. There would be no Auden. There would be no literature.
Perhaps that's what Auden also meant, and perhaps that is why I so admire him, even though I have hardly read him. But what I admire about him most is his punctuality. As he said of himself, as quoted by London's Spectator:
So obsessive a ritualist
a pleasant surprise
makes him cross.
Without a watch
he would never know when
to feel hungry or horny.
It would really help if I could schedule things like horniness.