Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Garden of Auden

My life is largely sustained by the belief that I shall create literature someday; and this belief, I believe, largely stems from the fact that I never studied English literature. Inferiority complex, you see. Shakespeare is completely lost on me, so is Eliot. I find it impossible to wade through Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy, and I had never heard of W.H. Auden till about eight years ago when a Time magazine article explained his greatness.

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.


Anonymous said...

You made me think again. Regarding the selfishness part. True that we want our dear and near to be hale and healthy because we do not want to get into trouble.Shamelessly i have been praying to god with this selfish motive all these years.
No doubt why you got listed in top 5 bloggers.
Great Post again.
Vijay C

dharmabum said...

a time table for sex? that would be 24 by 7 right?
a thesis on ganga mail?

gosh ghosh, i can't seem to decide which of the two sound funnier.

i think we're all much too wallowed in our insecurites and yearnings to understand what true love is. and i think thats why we see the world as selfish - in sanskrit there is a saying - yatha drishti, tatha srishti.

thank you!

Anonymous said...

The NewYorker Magazine's "Shouts and Murmurs" page on Auden's centenary and how taxiwallahs in his hometown of York are learning to recite the poetry of the native son is pretty hilarious. If you fail to create literature, or get someone to quote and analyze your blog in a thesis, you can still get your hometown autorikshahwallahs quote your writings. Here is how a cockney taxiwallah goes on about the homosexuality of Auden in that one page from The NewYorker:

’E ’ad a gentleman friend, Mr. Auden did, dinnee? Bit of a trouser man, orroight? That seems to be the way nowadays, innit, wif actors and M.P.s and clergy and wot ’ave you. In my day, there weren’t a need to fling yer spanky knackers into other folks’ faces all jumble-wumble and ’ere’s-mine-guv’nor. Though the missus did drag me to see Mr. Rudolf Nureyev at the ballet once. That man packed a full bag of groceries, dinnee?

Anonymous said...

There are layers in selfishness, too. The type that you explained in your post, results more from love than being total "selfishy" selfish. We pray for the wellbeing of our dear ones not only because we want ourselves to be free of worry. It's also because we genuinely love them and mean little harm. Beacuse i don't think we'll dance around in joy and think of OUR sorry state if something serious happens to them. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

not looking like WH. Auden is somethign to wish for .... innit ? I looked at all the photos of Ghosh's visit to Kerala and figured that he would rather be Mr. Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde than some weird poetry dude from York.

Anonymous said...

i fink i am a littul drunk..fresca mixes well with Bombay dry gin and soem leomn jucie.

Anonymous said...

so true..... heard of Auden for the first time!! thank god there's you..

3inone said...


Thought I'd do a favourite five post too.

Anonymous said...

it is very unique and blissful - this Garden of Auden :)