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By John Dolan

Auden is the worst famous poet of the 20th century. He simply cannot write a decent line, let alone a decent poem. Some of his very worst poems are among those “classics” found in every anthology of Modern poetry. They’ll continue to clog those penitential first-year university texts until we find the courage to laugh out loud at stanzas like this:

Earth, receive an honoured guest:

William Yeats is laid to rest.

Let the Irish vessel lie

Emptied of its poetry.

This, comrades, is just plain lousy poetry. In O, so many ways. O, let us count the ways. The most obvious defects of this stanza are technical, as in, Auden couldn’t make a decent rhyme to save his life. He starts with a full-rhyme couplet, “guest/rest,” and clearly meant to use a straightforward, undemanding AABB rhyme-scheme throughout this poem, as shown by the rhymes in the next stanza: “dark/bark/wait/hate.” But he can’t find a rhyme for “lie,” a word hundreds of humble pop lyricists have had no trouble slotting into their songs. Instead, we get the incredibly clunky “lie/poetry” – not a “slant rhyme” or “half rhyme” but an outright non-rhyme in any dialect of English.

The stanza is full of such prosodic gaffes, like the fact that Auden has to rechristen the deceased “William Yates” to squeeze him into his deal coffin. The man was often called “Yeats” but when more formally addressed insisted on all three names, “William Butler Yeats”; knocking out the middle name is simply Auden’s home carpentry in verse at work. Indeed, the whole structure of this first stanza is maudlin, hackneyed bathos, a crude example of the most debased genre in poetry, the elegy for the illustrious dead.

For centuries, bad poets have pounced on the fresh corpses of famous people, eager to use the opportunity to jerk career-advancing tears from their readers by shedding meretricious, metrical tears of their own over the body (see my book, Poetic Occasion from Milton to Wordsworth ). By the 20th century, this tradition was so noisome that scrupulous poets, confident of their talents, made a point of eschewing such occasions.

Auden was perfectly positioned to claim Yeats’ corpse, thanks to two key advantages: his superb literary connections (he was one of the poetry world’s all-time leading schmoozers), and the fact that he had no taste. That meant that he didn’t mind gorging on carrion, didn’t recognize the sleaziness of the whole enterprise, and so he was all over Yeats’ corpse before it was cold. He had the “Irish guest” wallpapered with his ode, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” before the competition could get off a haiku. And his entry in the funeral games was exactly the sort that wins public acclaim: huge, clunky and soppy, full of topical references and a vast self-pity in which Yeats’ dead body becomes the occasion for a big group weep over the state of Europe.

The first part of the poem is free verse, held together by the pseudo-ballad chorus, “The day of his death was a dark cold day.” (Auden was always aping Yeats’ balladeering – see his “As I Walked Out One Evening” – but with no grasp of Yeats’ context, the Irish revolution, Auden’s yo-ho-ho-in’ always sounded like folk songs about sailors by Greenwich Villagers who showered twice a day.) Auden’s observation about weather conditions at the time of Yeats’ passing o’er was true enough; it was January in Ireland, for God’s sake. Ah, but this, for minds like Auden’s, was more than meteorology; this was metonymy. Indeed, for Auden’s purposes, it was “the metonymier, the better,” because he didn’t have, couldn’t have, much real interest or sympathy in the deceased, the wacky, prickly Anglo-Irish self-made legend, Yeats. Auden was above all a conventional mind, voicing the commonplaces of middlebrows everywhere; and Yeats, to his credit, was an autodidact nutcase, supergluing his own ideology out of Irish nationalism intentionally poisoned with MacPherson’s glamorized defeatism, abstracted via the German mystics. Auden understood nothing of all that, as he makes clear in what is virtually the poem’s only attempt to discuss Yeats, its ostensible subject:

Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry,

Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still…

Here we have a fine example of the depth of Auden’s socialist analysis of colonialism, which extends about as far as lamenting boy-on-boy violence, as shown in “The Shield of Achilles” (which may be his very worst, most laughably cliché-ridden poem):

…that two boys knife a third,

Were axioms to him, who’d never heard…

Another triumph for our rhymster, “third” and “heard,” with “word” ending the next line – but the point is that this is as far as Auden’s sense of evil goes. He’s incapable of finding any historical context in the revolutionary violence that made Yeats a great poet in spite of himself. For Auden, an alleged socialist, it’s just “mad Ireland” doing what she does naturally.

This remarkable blindness concerning a certain island due west of Oxbridge will be a recurring theme in this series, leading us back and back to the question: why is it that only Lord Byron, the designated villain of English poetry, will spare a word for the Irish peasantry? Why do committed Marxists, professional sympathizers like Auden, always fail to see anything but a genetic predisposition to violence in the people whose mulched offspring literally paid for the careers of most English poets of the last three centuries?

Keep that question in mind; it’ll be on the exam.

One part of the answer is that Auden’s utter conventionality precluded such an heretical awareness. And it’s that conventionality, which defines every word the man ever wrote, that underpins his continuing celebrity. The shortest answer to the question, “How do you get famous without poetic talent?” is: sleep around the hot universities and squeeze tears, then stage a well-timed conversion to the Right.

Auden followed an absolutely conventional path to Anglicanism through Socialism, which in the circles he frequented was nothing but Flannery O’Connor’s “Church of Christ without Christ” anyway. When the red flag lost its luster, it was a very easy step for Auden to subside into a fluffy, tweedy devotion to that same Church, with the Christ part slipped back in.

I’m not in any way implying that Auden was calculating or insincere. Would he had been! Then he might have been an interesting poet. On the contrary, he was a genuine dunce, plodding along with the majority of middlebrow intellectuals who joined the Communists in the Thirties and then drifted back toward a vague, chastened piety after the war. If you want to see a very good, cruel account of the process, read Edmund White’s Memoirs of Hecate County. There were Audens cocktailing their way through every country club in Connecticut and the Home Counties; most of them simply didn’t pretend to be poets.

In Auden’s elegy for Yeats, written at the end of the 30s, we see the bovine instinct loitering around an interim deity, a way-station between Stalin and the Archbishop of Canterbury: a schoolboy’s deity, “poetry.” Again and again, the poem offers Yeats’ corpse to this word:

…Poetry makes nothing happen; it survives

In the valley of its making where executives

Would never want to tamper, flows on south

From ranches and isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.

Ah, this man is such a rotten poet that though I want to discuss his meaning, I can’t help marking the sheer lousiness of his rhymes. Why, Mistuh Auden, do dat river flow “south”? It wouldn’t be because you needed a rhyme for “mouth,” would it? And why for that matter, is poetry reduced to another one of your determinedly Platonic metonymies, “mouth” – aside from the appalling pun on riparian geography? Why, indeed, does this river which flows into the mouth flow “ON south” rather than simply “south” – could it be that you needed an extra syllable there? Could you, W. H., sir, rhyme your way out of the proverbial paper bag? (Hint: “tired old slag.”)

Well, let us, to quote Thurber’s mom, “move on to something more elevating”: the ideology, so to speak, of this Ode to Poetry. It means nothing. Absolutely nothing. That’s the beauty of it, that’s the secret of his success: zip, nothing, nada.

Wallace Stevens, a genius and a man of honor, talks about nothing, wears it proudly to the sneers of the mob, even courts those sneers (and by “the mob,” I mean Robert Frost and Hugh Kenner); Auden, the mob’s Anglo-American idol, genuflects to this empty space called “poetry” which, according to the last line of his Yeats poem, will “teach the free man how to praise.”

Way to go with that intransitive, Auden. No direct object for “praise” – crafty. Cunning, in the way of dumb-as-bricks people. As long as we don’t know what the “free man” is going to “praise,” you haven’t offended anybody. Contrast this with Stevens’ truly great and virtually contemporary poems, which are painfully contemptuous of the gigantic aporia where the object of praise should be, like the heartbreaking “Latest Freed Man.” His point is that there is nothing in the intellectual world, circa 1940, that an intelligent man can honestly praise – a problem Auden has avoided in a manner that many a place-seeking curate would envy.

Making the bland generic term, “poetry,” the object of love reminds me of those poems other bookish kids used to write “in praise of books.” I never understood how anyone could write in praise of books; it was like endorsing everything, good bad and rotten. Books were most of what I loved as a kid, books and animals; but books were most of what I hated, too, feared and loathed.

The same applies to “poetry”; I can’t imagine praising any category that includes Robert Southey, William Wordsworth and Lorna Dee Cervantes. Only an idiot could… well, that’s the point, isn’t it? Idiots need odes too; in fact, idiots are the main market for odes and elegies, as Mark Twain showed in the immortal “Ode to Stephen Dowling Botts, Deceased.”

Auden’s poems after 1940 enact a slow, elderly courtship of the Deity via European high culture as interpreted by a man of limited intellect. As with that other bard of the bell curve, William Carlos Williams, you get a lot of poems based on the paintings of Breughel. Odd, you might think, that two major Modernist poets should make so much of such a busy, cheery Norman Rockwell of a painter. But that’s the point: Breughel is a happy moron, like his 20th century champions. For Williams, he’s the artistic equivalent of a baseball game; for Auden, playing that old-world sage role for all it’s worth in Manhattan, Breughel, incredibly, becomes one of the “old masters” in that famous, rotten hyperbaton, “About suffering they were never wrong, the old masters….” This poem, “Musee des Beaux Arts,” sums up Auden’s meaning and value rather nicely: it’s fake high-European culture for a busy American audience that knows nothing about anything, and simply wants an imported sage to embody the mournful quietism which is the only stance it needs from such decorative figures.

Believe me, I saw the same thing with Czeslaw Milosz in Berkeley back in the 80s, the time of Solidarity and Reagan, when suddenly every Pole was a genius. Everybody adored Milosz; two of my professors actually fought, violently, over the correct pronunciation of his name, and lunch with the old eyebrow-monger was an honor to be bragged about for years. Then somebody noticed he’d left his mind back in Cracow, and the crush waned.

But we’ve been more loyal to Auden. After all, he’s not some peripheral Pole, he’s all we want to salvage from the muck of Europe in the 30s. Not because he’s the best writer of the period; he doesn’t even deserve to make the top thousand. The real list would be headed by Celine, a self-proclaimed “man of hate,” and Stevens, whose attitude toward the Great Depression was sneering contempt:

I heard two workers say, “This chaos

Will soon be ended.”

This chaos will not be ended…

Nobody at NYU really wanted to hear that, let alone Stevens’ views on WW II (envy at the attention it got, mixed with disdain for the hokiness of literal bombs) – let alone Celine’s magnificent contempt for the postwar, peaceful reverent suburbs.

What they wanted, more than ever, was Auden: a physically handsome old man with a grieving smile that managed to imply vast old-world suffering – from which the old man had distilled a vague Christianity; not the alarming redneck sort that was already lapping at the cities’ edges but a safe, neutered devotion beyond politics. Above all: beyond politics. After all, he had been a commie, and was now safely in the highbrow conservative camp.

The fact that he never could write a lick had nothing to do with it.

This article was first published in The eXile on February 8, 2007, originally titled “The World’s Most Overrated Poets: Vol. I”

Read more:, John Dolan, Book Burning Club, eXile Classic

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Add your own

  • 1. Ticklemonster  |  August 28th, 2012 at 9:15 am

    I like Auden. Moreover, I like Czeslaw and Oscar Milosz. Dolan doesn’t. That’s fine.

    That is to say, I am a middlebrow, and my middlebrow feelers are hurt. Waaaahhh!

  • 2. Wm. F. Buckley Jr.  |  August 28th, 2012 at 9:26 am

    This is unfair.

    For me, Auden composed a loving sonnet near the Chelsea Hotel, where we often had a martini and a tryst:

    He may edit the hate,
    Effete Bill may,
    But he doth swallow
    With plenitude.

    I believe it is still etched on the stall, near my own attempt:

    For a good time
    try 212-NAT-REVIEW
    9″+ ONLY.

    But—alas!—I was not good enough.

  • 3. Notorious P.A.T.  |  August 28th, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Are you sure that’s not Cancer Man from “The X-Files”?

  • 4. Ticklemonster  |  August 28th, 2012 at 10:17 am

    *LOL* Thanks for editing out the second part of my comment. Twas a real zinger.

    Hurt? Nay. Things being relative I’d say nothing Auden ever penned was as deep as an Angel reports to Darwin.

    You’re so worldly John…I’m praising you to hide my tears.

  • 5. Ozinator  |  August 28th, 2012 at 10:54 am

    haha #2

    When all the toilet stall poets die ‘
    there shall be erected in the sky
    in memory of their surly wit
    a monument of solid shit

  • 6. Wm. F. Buckley Jr.  |  August 28th, 2012 at 11:57 am


    Are you a Godless Leftist?

    Do you use your lower intestine as an erogenous zone?

    Have you had your head tattooed to show you have AIDS?

    Do you not praise my anti-collectivist masterpiece:

    Here I lie,
    Paid a dime
    And only farted.


    If not, then, let’s meet: Metropolitan Opera, Mens Room, Mezzanine, Third Stall.


  • 7. helplesscase  |  August 28th, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    God I fucking miss Dolan.

  • 8. darthfader  |  August 28th, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Right on.

  • 9. SturgeonSlaw  |  August 28th, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Those who live by Calliope’s scrawls,
    Excrete their verse in fecal balls,
    Those admiring these pompous twits,
    Eat those little balls of shit.

    Except for Dolan, of course, because he’s a genuine badass. What evil fate consigned him to life in the sheep pen of academia?

  • 10. JoeCollege  |  August 28th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    You lost me right away. The lie/poetry rhyme is acceptable by tradition. Auden is a great poet.

  • 11. Tanya Roessler  |  August 28th, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    Hi Mr Dolan,
    Still love Auden, but reading you again is an enourmous pleasure> Please, write more!!!

  • 12. zhubajie  |  August 28th, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    For a moment, I thought Dolan had gotten out of jail, but then I saw that this was a “classic.”

  • 13. Will  |  August 28th, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I’ve derived a lot of enjoyment and grist for reflection from Auden’s poetry, but really, the only problem I have with this article is that it’s a repost. The people demand fresh Dolan! He had five chapters of that meth lab novel years ago posted widely to wide acclaim — where oh where is the rest?

  • 14. Zoner  |  August 28th, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    The longer we go without anything recent by Dolan, the more worried I get. I have a bad feeling that he died a year ago and Ames has been keeping his body in a closet and cashing the Social Security checks. I want to know more about his houseboat adventures, dammit! I’ve already finished Celine’s two best books and I don’t want to read the anti-Semitic shit.

  • 15. Petra-De  |  August 28th, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    what is the difference between ‘middlebrow’ and ‘prole’

  • 16. John  |  August 28th, 2012 at 6:30 pm

    For what it’s worth a friend I showed this to reckons Auden’s awful rhymes in his Yeats tribute were ones used by Yeats in his own poetry.

    Which makes them more clever than awful, without reference to the rest of the argument.

  • 17. gc  |  August 28th, 2012 at 6:51 pm


    middlebrow = Thinks The King’s Speech is a good movie.

    prole = Thinks Transformers is a good movie.

  • 18. vortexgods  |  August 28th, 2012 at 9:56 pm

    I will now imagine what I hope Dolan is doing now:

    “The heads. You’re looking at the heads. I, uh – sometimes he goes too far, you know – he’s the first one to admit it!”

    Hmm, it seems I imagined him as Marlon Brando.

    Curse my lack of imagination! (Although in my imagination the location has been moved from Vietnam to someplace like Kansas.)

    Seriously, he better not be homeless again!

    I found him when he was teaching at Suleyman, you know, before he wrote those great articles about it. It took a lot of diligent Googling, references to his books….

    Now, nothing. He never updates his blog, “Sure the Three Little Bops are all well and good, but I’ve read this three hundred times already,” his Amazon reviews “Yes, I already know 100% Corn,” or cool new cool articles about Starship Troopers, “Attack Ships on Fire off the Shoals of Otago”…

    Yes, I already bought Pleasant Hell (and completely unrelated, of course, the War Nerd book though that’s off topic)

    Where is he?!!?

  • 19. Gavine  |  August 28th, 2012 at 11:00 pm


  • 20. Punjabi From Karachi  |  August 29th, 2012 at 2:31 am

    Now we know why poor Dolan is always so poor and miserable, he’s written 2,000+ words on poetry. Ye Gads, what a way to slide into poverty.

    Can I side with #3, Notorious P.A.T and ask, yes, is that the Cancer Man/Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files. And since the eXile in all it’s X-ey goodness is a blast from the nineties, despite hating so much from that decade, what they made of that wonderful show. Because it was wonderful. I’ld read a 2,000+ essay on the X-Files by the eXile any time. I was too young to enjoy it beyond the suspense/horror/action angle at that time.

    So. Much. Fun.

  • 21. ovaut  |  August 29th, 2012 at 3:50 am

    john- yes, the last part of the elegy is meant to sound like yeats. not that that makes it good, but it’s something dolan should’ve acknowledged.

  • 22. Paul  |  August 29th, 2012 at 7:46 am

    Celine is as overrated as Auden. Celine was an anti-semite and a fascist. And he is as self righteous as Auden is dull. Ooo, myah, nyah, betcha this’ll get you to respond huh? Then you can flame me. And I can flame you back. And we flame each other. And then we overcome our differences and drink beers together because as genius to genius, we’re really a lot a like. You’d find me interesting to talk to, if only you would just listen.

  • 23. Galtian Overlord  |  August 29th, 2012 at 8:34 am


    Your betters are about to coronate Paul Ryan and the Mormon Mammon Guy for leaders of the Free-Market World and you’re concerned about a twee slurping troll of a poet like Wm. F. Buckley Jr.’s secret lover? (Buckley, that anti-Objectivist cad!)

    Pathetic Bastards!

    Objective Love and Checking My Premises,

    Galtian Overlord

  • 24. Galtic Warrior  |  August 29th, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Oh come on #2, WFB loved him some black cock.

  • 25. Cum  |  August 29th, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    I normally think it’s insulting when people make those DOLAN COME BACK posts after Eileen’s movie reviews (some dudes just can’t give a woman credit for her work). But here is an appropriate space for me to post DOLAN COME BACK. I read your book. There is a whole new generation of shut in nerds that need the stern guidance of a knowing elder.

  • 26. zhubajie  |  August 29th, 2012 at 10:50 pm

    18. vortexgods “I will now imagine what I hope Dolan is doing now:”

    Well, I hope he’s helping Thai bar-girls write letters to their big big honeys, begging for money. I fear he’s dead or in prison some place. Last I knew, he was heading back to the Middle East to teach some place.

  • 27. Kim  |  August 30th, 2012 at 8:08 am

    You should have spiked this. It’s obvious from the opening paragraphs that the author is unfamiliar with “Under Ben Bulben,” Yeats’ self-penned “obit” which Auden is lovingly pastiching. That’s where the meter and false rhymes come from (knew/crow, up/top). The rest of the article may be better or worse, but I gave up when I realized the author didn’t know his subject.

  • 28. Wm. F. Buckley, Jr.  |  August 30th, 2012 at 9:19 am

    #24 Galtic:

    I would never partake of negroidal genitals, especially what you call “cock” in your atheistic Randian fashion.

    As Whitiker and I know, the white dainty flowers and their stalks of young Republican page boys are superior.

    Now bugger off and get your some turgid Nathan Branden spunk, yo.


  • 29. gc  |  August 30th, 2012 at 6:11 pm


    You should have spiked this. It’s obvious from the opening paragraphs that the author is unfamiliar with “Under Ben Bulben,” Yeats’ self-penned “obit” which Auden is lovingly pastiching. That’s where the meter and false rhymes come from (knew/crow, up/top). The rest of the article may be better or worse, but I gave up when I realized the author didn’t know his subject.

    Trust me, there’s-one-in-every-classroom-and-on-every-website thinks-he’s-the-first-to-share-on-observation-because-nobody-else-has-made-it-when-in-fact-the-situation-is-that-nobody-else-was-dumb-enough-to-think-it-worth-sharing – if you know it, everybody knows it.

  • 30. mookid  |  August 31st, 2012 at 12:26 am

    Eileen > Dolan

    deal with it

  • 31. Trevor  |  August 31st, 2012 at 5:57 am

    It’s always worth pointing out that “literary” types are often just as tin-eared and doltish as fans of The Hunger Games.

  • 32. Mr. Bad  |  August 31st, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    @ 14. Zoner

    C’mon, really? Dolan is a good enough writer but he isn’t even close to Celine’s league and I’m sure he would agree. Try:

    Castle to Castle
    London Bridge
    Guignol’s Band

    in that order, also Nicholas Hewitt’s Biography is the best of the bunch, should probably read that first before getting to the last three. There is little if any overt anti-semitism in those books,that was mostly in the pamphlets.

  • 33. Vendetta  |  September 1st, 2012 at 5:44 pm


    By what dumbfuck tradition is that?

  • 34. Galtic Warrior  |  September 2nd, 2012 at 3:46 am

    Mark Ames, I wuv you!

  • 35. Kim  |  September 2nd, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    @29 Oh, the author and the editors knew that? Fine.

  • 36. Galtic Warrior  |  September 3rd, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Mark Ames, I do love you, and I prove I’m a retard by wasting my time posting all of those “facts” that your AEC wisely edited.

  • 37. Moman  |  September 4th, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    What is wrong with Breughel? I like Auden and Celine.

  • 38. notjonathon  |  September 5th, 2012 at 1:26 am

    “About suffering they were never wrong,
    The Old Masters”

    Can’t find a better sentence. Question is, how did my father ever find my mother’s taint hole?

  • 39. Leftist Aesthete  |  September 7th, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Never again shall I look at tattered rag if this is what passes for poetry criticism at exiled. Dolan can’t read either passage he quotes, which is why he only make sarcasms about the rhymes, which in point of fact are purposeful. And if he doesn’t the get the draining feeling, elegy verging on apocalypse, as Auden writes “A way of happening, a mouth” he is not reading. The point Auden is building a feeling of exhaustion and incompletion–the discord of rhyme & rhythm of the verse mime the feeling until we fall into the “mouth”. Dolan may disagree with this pose but denying the craft shows that what he offers the reader is bluster and jokes. Which is the usual bullying reaction of not understanding something. The bottom line is, unless this is being reposted for sentimental reasons, it shows lack of skill in the writer and dubious judgment by the staff. Save the pose of incredulity before bullshit for the Ryan budget.

  • 40. The Gubbler  |  September 8th, 2012 at 5:02 am

    Steven Jesse Bernstein – The Sport Pt. 1

  • 41. The Gubbler  |  September 8th, 2012 at 5:41 am

    Prince – Purple Rain

  • 42. The Gubbler  |  September 8th, 2012 at 5:56 am

    Prince – I Wish U Heaven

  • 43. The Gubbler  |  September 8th, 2012 at 6:08 am

    Mecca Normal – Fuck You (just kidding…20 Years/No Escape)

  • 44. FOARP  |  September 11th, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Pretending I’m not an Auden fan and that I’m not offended or anything, so that when I make my criticism it’ll seem more sincere rather than driven by anger. So, ready?

    I am a Dolan fan. Dolan either knew this or should have known this.

  • 45. FOARP  |  September 12th, 2012 at 12:49 am

    I’m just going to STFU now, consoling myself with the thought that Dolan not only didn’t read my comment, but that the eXiled intern took the time to improve it.

  • 46. Auden's Zombie  |  October 29th, 2012 at 10:23 pm

    Shit, dude, you got a cliff notes to this thing? Pretty ironic that a rant about a bad writer would be written so badly.

    Did I flame you with my cliff notes zinger or what? Damn, that must have destroyed you!

  • 47. Sabine Lenore Mueller  |  January 25th, 2013 at 11:44 am

    My heartfelt thanks to you Mr. Dolan! This is brilliant and long overdue! W.H. Auden is being perpetrated on young souls as part of the general fetishization of greatness – the latter being nothing more than the achievement of utter triviality, mediocrity and compliance with the values of shallow enlightenment and conservatism. Reading Auden is just so PAINFUL! You capture it perfectly: “And it’s that conventionality, which defines every word the man ever wrote, that underpins his continuing celebrity.” … Only one question remains – is the one to WBY really his most loathsome construction or mightn’t it be the one to Freud? the “famous Jew who died in exile” a piece surprising with such astonishing observations as “To be free/ is often to be lonely”? Or the one I can’t seem to find right now about some German going into retirement? … the choice is so great and I further agree that he should NEVER have made it into the list of 1000 poets of the 30’s worth remembering! Greetings from the West of Ireland – feeling very inspired to get your book right now! (as I think I share your view on Wordsworth, too 😉

  • 48. AUDENIS BETTER THAN YOU  |  April 22nd, 2013 at 6:52 pm

    My GOD. The quality of the prose in this article stands in mute contrast to Auden’s effortless tmj beauty. This article strains harder than Elvis circa 1977. Shoehorning polysyllabic words into it in no way serves to improve this smug, ad hominem bullshit. Feeble.

  • 49. My momma is better than AUDEN IS BETTER THAN YOU  |  April 22nd, 2013 at 6:54 pm

    Note to my momma: Please stop stinking up the interwebs with ill-informed doggerel.

  • 50. james  |  January 30th, 2014 at 10:11 am

    an absolute farce of a comment, Auden is widely recognized as a master of hackery, a prolific war hack. you my friends now look incredibly smart compared to commentards.

  • 51. Claus  |  April 9th, 2014 at 1:50 am

    What an absolute shitload I’d be if I made an idiotic comment on this brilliant piece. Thank god for the Almighty eXiled Censor to improve a baloneyhead like me.

  • 52. C. James  |  September 14th, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    William Blake. Fearful symmetry. Idiot.

  • 53. Claus  |  October 6th, 2014 at 12:42 am

    “Comments can and will be censored at whim and without warning”. And removed, if they prove to contain too much idiocy.

  • 54. Robbie Brechin  |  November 19th, 2014 at 12:53 am

    Jealousy is a curse. I am middlebrow, a cliché-ridden wanker. You wrote a brilliant piece. I merely comment, and my comment was so retarded it required improvements from the Almighty Exiled Censor, for which I am grateful.

  • 55. Gavin  |  December 21st, 2014 at 6:07 am

    ‘Earth, receive an honoured guest:
    William Yeats is laid to rest.
    Let the Irish vessel lie
    Emptied of its poetry.’

    I’m going to address the ‘issues’ raised with this stanza. Firstly, the second rhyming couplet deliberately fails. The message refers to the absence of poetry. What better way to demonstrate this than through the very poetics by which it is described? The poetry breaks down as it refers to the breakdown of poetry. It’s clever/powerful and not the result of poor rhyming. Auden rhymes ‘lie’ with ‘eye’ two stanzas later; it’s not like he can’t do it. The appellation of ‘William Yeats’ is similarly unforced. ‘W’ or ‘Butler’ would equally fulfill the metrical criteria. ‘William’ was likely selected due to its personal touch. As much as Yeats was a famed poet, he was also a man. Auden is writing an eulogy not an obituary; it needs to come across as warm. The ‘Irish vessel’ is ambiguous. It may refer to Yeats’ body or to the state of Ireland – in the latter instance Yeats serves metonymically as an embodiment of all great Irish’poetry’. It’s a play on the phrase ’empty vessels make the most noise’ (Yeats poetic voice continues after he is gone). Furthermore, it summons, at least by lexical connotation, the image of a Viking ship burial. This lends some sense of stately grandeur to the otherwise personal.

    While I’ve focused my analysis on this stanza alone, I assure you that the others are equally powerful/ complex. While you criticize the lines –

    ‘Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry,
    Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still…’

    – for a lack of genuine social analysis, it might pay to read some of Yeats’ work. Namely, September 1913: ‘some woman’s yellow hair/ had maddened every mother’s son’ … ‘all that delirium of the brave’. Auden is alluding to Yeats’ continual representation of, and drawn equivalence between, patriotism and madness. Auden need not say more because he is simply alluding – for a more detailed analysis, look at Yeats’ own poetry.

  • 56. Ralph  |  August 18th, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    Mr. Dolan,

    Regarding your complaint about Auden needing to “rechristen” Yeats as “William Yeats,” you must be unaware of the Irish poet’s poem “To be carved on a stone at Thoor Ballylee,” which begins:

    “I, the poet William Yeats
    with old mill boards and sea-green slates…”

    If it’s good enough for Yeats, it should be good enough for you, chump.

  • 57. Ashley  |  October 1st, 2017 at 7:22 am

    Thank you for voicing truth. I googled “W.H. Auden is a bad poet” today, in a random burst of courage. There you were. Glad I am not alone. He’s awful! One of his lines though, I resonate with. In At Last the Secret is Out, he stated:
    “Under the look of fatigue,
    the attack of migraine and the sigh
    There is always another story,
    there is more than meets the eye.”

    Today I have a migraine starting in my right eye, and after perusing his poems again, I do now know why.

    Thanks for the empathy 😉

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