Monday, December 22, 2008

Aimless Reading: The A's, Part 26


The Dyer's Hand
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Auden, W.H.
The Dyer's Hand


This copy of The Dyer's Hand definitely dates to my undergraduate days. I think it was purchased for a graduate level course I took on modernist poetry: one of those classes where you go read an essay by a poet, then go read the poems and try to figure out how the clearly articulated ideas of the essay are embodied in the confused musical mess of the poem. Which, of course, misses the point of both.

Auden has never been hugely important to me, but I remember reading the essay, "The Poet & The City." Here's the first little bit:

It is astonishing how many young people of both sexes, when asked what they want to do in life, give neither a sensible answer like "I want to be a lawyer, an innkeeper, a farmer," nor a romantic answer like "I want to be an explorer, a racing motorist, a missionary, President of the United States." A surprisingly large number say, "I want to be a writer," and by writing they mean "creative" writing. Even if they say "I want to be a journalist," this is because they are under the illusion that in that profession they will be able to create; even if their genuine desire is to make money, they will select some highly paid subliterary pursuit like Advertising.

Among these would-be writers, the majority have no marked literary gift. This in itself is not surprising; a marked gift for any occupation is not very common. What is surprising us that such a high percentage of those without any marked talent for any profession should think of writing as the solution. One would have expected that a certain number would imagine they had a talent for medicine or engineering and so on, but this is not the case. In our age, if a young person is untalented, the odds are in favor of his imagining he wants to write.

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