On Re-Reading Auden
Originally posted here on
For a couple of summers in my early 20s, I worked for the United States Forest Service. In the summer of 1983, I worked on a trail crew in the Anaconda Pintler Wilderness in southwestern Montana. At night, long after my fellow crew members were asleep, I would lie in my sleeping bag reading W.H. Auden’s Selected Poems by flashlight.
I still have the volume. It has browned with time and is as dog-eared as you would expect a volume to be that had been tied to a mule and hauled along the Continental Divide Trail.
Flipping through it now 27 years later (!), I read lines I underlined all those nights ago. Memories of the mountains and my youth mingle with Auden’s words.
Sometimes I will read a line I underlined or boldly starred and wonder, why did I think so much of that line? this other one is clearly the better?
That is the nature of art. Just as we can never step into the same river twice, we can never re-approach a work of art exactly the same. We are different each time we read a poem, stand in front of a painting, listen to a song. We are different because we have been changed by time, experience, and by the work of art itself, and all the other works of art we have encountered and been changed by.
I read Auden differently now because I have read Auden.