And so, a little further...
26. This could go round and round the blocks. I don't want to go back to the old form-content debate which, as Alfred rightly points out in his comment below, is beyond resolution. What I wanted to understand, or begin to understand, was an instinctive personal preference and the limits to that preference. It was a preference for poems lighter on subject than on language. It was a preference for invention over ideas of sincerity and straight talking. It was perhaps a fleshing out of Pound's belief that technique was the test of sincerity. It's a personal thing.
27. Yeats is not the best example of this test. Yeats was given to a certain poetic bombast, or at least the noise of bombast. The poetry, however, remains magnificent. And, despite Auden, whom I adore, I love Yeats's Sailing to Byzantium. There are, I think, conditions under which it might be the finest thing to be a golden bird. A golden bird is, after all, immortal. There are longings for immortality in all of us, else what's the point? We know the longing to be ridiculous, and we know that claiming such things is not only bombast but a kind of crime against the imagination. And yet we long, and are right to long.
28. Stevens might be a better example. Take 'Bantam in Pine-Woods'.
Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan
Of tan with henna hackles, halt!
Damned universal cock, as if the sun
Was blackmoor to bear your blazing tail.
Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat! I am the personal.
Your world is you. I am my world.
You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!
Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,
Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.
I have in front of me the Faber Selected, the copy I must have given daughter Helen, when she went up to Oxford in 1994. She has annotated the poem, talking of four levels of imagery, making sense of lines such as: 'Your world is you. I am my world.' She is one damn smart girl and was one even back then. But to my ears - and, I am sure to hers too - there's an altogether different set of events hitting the ear. 'Chieftain Iffucan of Azcan in caftan / Of tan with henna hackles, halt!" and 'blackamoor to bear your blazing tail' and 'Fat! Fat! Fat! Fat!' The assault is of another order. It is, with work, amenable to sense and subject, but at the same time, it devours it.
29. Granted Stevens is more of an aesthete than most of us are, but he is aesthete as explorer and survival expert, the Captain Scott and Bear Grylls of the peignoir. Next to him, Auden is a heap of common sense.
30. I suppose I like my breath a little taken away. I like to watch grace on the wire playing the fool. Maybe I am too easily impressed.
31. And yet I know my capacity for sentimentality, to be moved too easily to tears by fairy tale homilies that echo the deepest hopes and fears. I suspect I am right to suspect this too easy welling up. I suspect it is not empathy but a form of self-pity relieving itself at the nearest well of tears. Maybe, and again, maybe.
32. Axiom: Feeling should not be too easily arrived at, but one should ideally arrive at it.
33. Axiom: Not too clever. Just clever enough. The humble virtuoso at the spinet.
34. Axiom: Dancing is better than preaching and the fetishization of grief, or indeed of anything else.
35. And yet: They flee from me who sometime did me seek. And Here doth lie /Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry. And Wild nights! Wild nights! / Were I with thee. All these have clear subjects. All these have tears and I am not about to surrender them.
36. But then, in these poems, it is as if language itself were moving: flee / me / me / seek..eeee! Ta-dum, ta-dum, ta-dum-ta- (caesura?) ta(dum?)(caesura?) ta dum. Possibly. Depends whether you oppose flee to seek, or they to me. And see what we are thinking about here? The means that is also the end. Technique is the test, etc. And a certain ambiguity of interpretation, even in this first line. And how the shudder runs up the spine just saying it!
37. If poetry had not moved or excited me I'd never have become a poet. But I didn't then know what it was that moved and excited me. Now it seems ever more likely that I will not find out. All the same, it's worth a go.
38. It may be that what moved and excited me is the human capacity to utter sound and meaning, and be lost in the act of discovering sound and meaning. Chieftain Iffucan. If you can.
39. The Thirty-Ninth Step and I'm still nowhere near.
I will return once last time to consider the city / town metaphor. Yesterday I was giving a speech on prizes day at a local school. When first invited to do so I wrote to the head - a splendid head - a long letter suggesting why I was not the right person. But that, she replied, is why you are the right person. There is no right person. But I did it anyway. Play up, play up, and play the game.