chapter  114
2 Pages

Donald Hall, Review, 'new Statesman', July I960

It is true that the pleasure is 'dry', if by that adjective we mean that the pleasure occurs largely in Lawrence's Vipper cerebral regions'. The two big poems on which the book chiefly depends - 'Homage to Clio' and 'Good-bye to the Mezzogiorno' - are roughly in the manner of 'In Praise of Limestone', which is I suppose Auden's most successful poem of the recent past. They are written in a syllabic stanza which alternates lines of eleven and nine syllables. (In fact Auden allows himself considerable variation in the count, but there is so much consistency that we must

call the form syllabic. Strictness of number is less relevant in long-lined syllables than in most metres, because the ear cannot count over five or six without concentrating on the count rather than on the sense.) Auden performs the peculiar tone of the syllabic with his customary light skill. Make a new fiddle and he'll be its master. Syllables are hard to describe: they give a sense of randomness within control. One poet has borrowed Leavis's phrase, 'creative exploration', to explain the sensation; another once said, with an irony which he intended, that they conveyed 'the authority of prose'. Here is Auden's chatty, inclusive, anti-rhetorical manner, from 'Goodbye to the Mezzogiorno':

[Quotes from the first 10 lines of the poem, CP (M) 486.]

His wit, which rhyme can make flashy, stands unaided by gimmicks, and is all the more effective.