A Letter To Lord Byron

A Letter To Lord Byron by W. H. Auden

"... There is one other author in my pack For some time I debated which to write to. Which would least likely send my letter back? But I decided I'd give a fright to Jane Austen if I wrote when I'd no right to, And share in her contempt the dreadful fates Of Crawford, Musgrove, and of Mr. Yates. Then she's a novelist. I don't know whether You will agree, but novel writing is A higher art than poetry altogether In my opinion, and success implies Both finer character and faculties Perhaps that's why real novels are as rare As winter thunder or a polar bear. ... I must remember, though, that you were dead Before the four great Russians lived, who brought The art of novel writing to a head; The help of Boots had not been sought. But now the art for which Jane Austen fought, Under the right persuasion bravely warms And is the most prodigious of the forms. She was not an unshockable blue-stocking; If shades remain the characters they were, No doubt she still considers you as shocking. But tell Jane Austen, that is if you dare, How much her novels are beloved down here. She wrote them for posterity, she said; 'Twas rash, but by posterity she's read. You could not shock her more than she shocks me; Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass. It makes me most uncomfortable to see An English spinster of the middle-class Describe the amorous effects of 'brass', Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety The economic basis of society..." This is an excerpt from a much longer poem by W. H. Auden. The full text can be found online. Letter to Lord Byron was first published in Letters from Iceland (1937), Faber and Faber, and Random House, New York. The revised version presented here is taken from Longer Contemporary Poems (1966), Penguin Books. Enjoyed this article? Browse our book shop at janeaustengiftshop.co.uk

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published