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How reliable, one may wonder, are these Goethe and Eckermann-like conversations between poet Griffin and Auden circa the late 1940s? Writes Auden to Griffin, in 1949: ""Many thanks for your letter and the dialogue. I don't remember saying a word you attribute to me, but I seem to agree with what you say, so it must be alright."" Sometimes, too, Griffin and Auden repeat the same opinions, identically phrased, in different conversations. And there may be a more-than-coincidental link between Auden's comments on Shakespeare here and his 1946-47 New School lectures on Shakespeare's plays. Yet, as is for all the doubts of their firsthand veracity, these dialogues (originally published in quarterlies in the '50s) do extract Auden-juice, unmistakably. True, some of the talk is dated (on Nuremberg, war prisoners, Nazi demonism); but most isn't. On manners: ""People are born serious, selfish, and honest. Through suffering, they must learn to become frivolous and insincere. In order that we may not take ourselves as seriously as a baby does, we have to learn to be serious about other people. . . . We have to bear in mind that we are a great deal less interested in others than we like to admit. In manners we pretend to be concerned about people we never wish to see again."" On Antony and Cleopatra: ""Right up to the end the weather has been good; the world has been radiant; everything has shone. Even at her death the queen puts on her robes and her crown. Seen in a certain light, the world can be this way. And Shakespeare does not want us to forget it."" Equally as interesting are back-and-forths (Griffin no intellectual slouch, though the best lines go to Auden)--about Dante, romantic love, physiognomy, Oscar Wilde. Whether or not, then, these talks occurred exactly as presented, Auden-the-opinioner and -critic and -epigraphist is in large evidence. For the Shakespeare examinations alone, this is an inviting, if peripheral, book.

Pub Date: July 16th, 1981
Publisher: Grey Fox Press--dist. by Subco (Box 10233, Eugene, OR 97440)