Alexander McCall Smith on W.H. Auden: 'I am more grateful than I ever can say'

The British poet was recently honored by Alexander McCall Smith of 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' fame, in a volume titled 'What W.H. Auden Can Do for You.'

Poet W.H. Auden receives praise from bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, who says his life has been 'enriched by [Auden's] language.'

Thanks to several bestselling mystery series, including “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” “Isabel Dalhousie," “Portuguese Irregular Verbs,” and “44 Scotland Street,” Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith is one of the most successful authors in the world.

In a new book released last month, Smith credits a lot of his creative inspiration to W.H. Auden, the British poet who lived from 1907 to 1973. “I have learned so much from this poet,” Smith writes in a slender volume titled “What W. H. Auden Can Do for You.”

“My life has been enriched by his language. I have stopped and thought, and thought, over so many of his lines. He can be with us in every part of our lives, showing us how rich life can be, and how precious. For that, I am more grateful to him than I can ever say.”

Smith’s 137-page testimonial is part of Princeton’s “Writers on Writers” series, in which contributing authors pen small books celebrating their debt to other wordsmiths. Previous books in the series include Philip Lopate on Susan Sontag, C.K. Williams on Walt Whitman, and Michael Dirda on Arthur Conan Doyle.

Auden, regarded as one of the major poets of the 20th century, immigrated to the US in 1939 and became an American citizen, but he returned to Europe for his final years. His poetry remains popular today, and one of his most celebrated poems, “Funeral Blues,” was featured in the 1994 film “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”

“I believe that if you read this poet, and think about what he has to say to you, then in a subtle but significant way you will be changed,” Smith tells readers. “This happened to me, and it can happen to you.”

Here, in honor of Auden’s influence on Alexander McCall Smith and thousands of readers around the world, are 10 quotes from the revered bard:

1. "Sob, heavy world,
Sob as you spin,
Mantled in mist, remote from the happy."

from "The Age of Anxiety"

2. "Let us honor if we can
The vertical man
Though we value none
But the horizontal one."

from “Epigraph for Poems” 

3. "About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window
Or just walking dully along."

from “Musee des Beaux Arts” 

4. "Earth, receive an honored guest;
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry."

– from “In Memory of W.B. Yeats

5. "In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark"

– from “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”

6. "Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye."

– from “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”

7. "To us he is no more a person
Now but a whole climate of opinion."

 – from “In Memory of Sigmund Freud”

8. "If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read the New Yorker; trust in God;
And take short views."

– from “Under Which Lyre” 

9. "Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered."

 from "The Dyer’s Hand”

10. "It takes little talent to see clearly what lies under one’s nose, a good deal of it to know in which direction to point that organ."

from "The Dyer’s Hand”

Danny Heitman is a Monitor contributor.


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