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Mr. Auden's View of Books


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Since the underlying reason for writing is to bridge the gulf between one person and another, as the sense of loneliness increases, more and more books are written by more and more people with little or no talent.-W.H. Auden in: An Outline for Boys and Girls and Their Parents, ed. Naomi Mitchison, 1932.


Well, there?s some truth there Mr A,

but there is much vanity in this calling

so intercede for me as others did for you,

to help us deal with the trahison des clercs*,

the sadnesses and bitternesses

that cloud our lives so easily,

so insinuatingly, so subtlely,

making what is written in a better state

than those who write.


In some ways, Mr A, as you say,

we never are alone.

Writing is not so much a bridge

as a dictionary of definitions

of who we are,

what?s going on in front of us,

behind us, over us, below us

as we try to make our way,

in our enchanted and not-so-enchanted

habitats, with and without integrity:

that stirling coin that cannot always

be freshly minted to meet the occasion.


Ron Price

2 July 1995


* A betrayal of a cause or of literary/intellectual/social standards by intellectuals

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  • 3 weeks later...

RonPrice, I've been pondering over your eloquent query into Mr. Auden's instructional guide for the young. I skim across surfaces and rarely pause to look deep. My first impression was that it only states the obvious - when books were first invented and were very expensive, only fine or important thoughts were in them - a medical guide of symptoms, a history of the times, folk wisdom, an epic poem about large scale events...

Nowadays books are written by hookers who offer their 'secrets' to the prurient, or as Truman Capote once said about popular novels: that is not writing, that is typing. The world of 2006 is extremely different from 1932. Perhaps Mr. Auden's words need updating by you. I believe the common definition of an intellectual is ANY person who reads books, and I assume that definition is what you object to.

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