Roy Hattersley defends Auden against charges of being “too difficult” made by Alan Bennett.
Last week, when interviewed by Melvyn Bragg, Alan Bennett described the poetry of WH Auden as “too difficult” to be bothered with. Philip Larkin, on the other hand, was easy to understand and therefore a pleasure to read. I am reluctant to contest the literary opinion of the 26th greatest living Yorkshireman. But sweeping judgments rarely make critical sense. Auden and Larkin both wrote poems which the reader has to think about and are, in consequence, called hard. And each of them wrote poems which are, superficially at least, easy. Anyway, “hard” and “easy” are ideas which exist only in the mind of the reader. Do not take my word for it, or even Alan Bennett’s. Believe TS Eliot.
I find difficulty is a draw for me. When difficult poetry is done well, it’s like playing a puzzle set by a mad genius. Thus my love affair with Geoffrey Hill’s late work.