A telling comment by Christopher Isherwood on W.H. Auden’s approach to revising his poems. It makes one wonder how many scholars have wasted hours peering deeply into some poem of ‘celebrated obscurity’ which was never more than an accretion of lines that had passed muster with Isherwood.
He was very lazy. He hated polishing and making corrections. If I didn’t like a poem, he threw it away and wrote another. If I liked one line, he would keep it and work it into a new poem. In this way whole poems were constructed which were simply anthologies of my favourite lines, entirely regardless of grammar or sense. This is the simple explanation of much of Auden’s celebrated obscurity.
Source: Seamus Heaney, Finders Keepers: Selected prose 1971-2001 (London: Faber and Faber, 2003), p. 195
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