by Bertolt Brecht upon which it isnmodeled. And among these earlynpoems we spot another mentor, too;n”Invitation to a Quiet Life” showsnmore than a hint of W.H. Auden, andn”Carentan O Carentan” is imitationnpure and naked.nO Captain, show us quicklynOur place upon the map.nBut the Captain’s sickly.nAnd taking a long nap.nWell, what’s wrong with that? Fromnwhom will a young poet learn if notnfrom the most influential voice of thatndecade?nNothing is wrong, nothing at all, ifnthe borrower is gracious enough tonacknowledge his debt and to say, as hennowhere does, that once upon a timenwhen he was green and lyric and impressionablenthe poet W.H. Audennhelped to shape the psyche of thenorganism that calls itself Louis Simpson.nHe has deigned to praise the youthfulnAuden for inventing “a compact, ellipticalnlanguage that was strikingly original”nand for being “obscure and prophetic.”nBut he believes that because Audennwrote no confessional poems his workncame to lack real substance. “His habitualnconcealment of his deepest life lednhim to write in a trivial manner until—nat an age when Hardy and Yeats wrotentheir greatest poems — he was writingnlight verse.”nThe review from which I quote thesensupercilious remarks, “The Split Livesnof W.H. Auden,” belongs to Simpson’snmiddle period. During this time, then1970’s, Simpson had espoused the notionsnof poets like Stanley Plumly,nDonald Hall, and especially Robert Bly,nand believed that poetry had to eschewnrhyme and meter and any diction notncolloquial. It was to tell dark transcendentalnsecrets of the soul; it was tonemploy “deep images.” He exhibitsnwith ecstatic approval an example fromnBly of such stuff: “The lamplight fallsnon all fours in the grass.”nThe poem most symptomatic of thisnmiddle period is “Walt Whitman atnBear Mountain,” in which Simpsonncarries on a plausible dialogue with anstatue of this American bard who hasntroubled his thoughts for such a longntime. “Where are you, Walt?” Hencomplains that the dazzling visions ofnthe future America Whitman promisednare abandoned and desecrated. “ThenOpen Road goes to the used-car lot.”nThe mage replies, with a sense ofnproportion and a humor often lacking innhis own poems, that he had not attemptednto prophesy or to lay downnlaws. “I freely confess I am whollyndisreputable.”nThen the poem breaks down. Somenpickpockets and salesmen enter, andnthen a storekeeper and a housewife arennamed but not located spatially, andnAmerica is unburdened of its “gravenweight.” This incoherence is concludednwith a deep image that Simpson hasnavowed his pride in: “And the angel innthe gate, the flowering plum, / Dancesnlike Italy, imagining red.”nThe fact that this image makes nonsense is, in Simpson’s eyes, perhaps thenlarger part of its glory. He would say ofnit what he says of Bly’s work: “If you arensold on the English department, thennthis poetry is not for you. You wouldnhave a devil of a time trying to explicatenit according to the principles of Brooksand-Warren.”nBut the truth is that it isnonly in the murkier recesses of Englishndepartments that one can find peoplensilly enough to imagine that a poem willnbe good only so long as Robert PennnWarren cannot understand it.nBeneath his confusions and pretensionsnthere is a streak of thoughtfulnessnin Simpson, and it is not surprising thatnhe got fed up with the woozy wordgamesnof this period and desired to writenpoems about real reality, the kind ofnreality novelists write about, thosenblokes without fancy language, fancynideas.nSo these days we get poems liken”Ed,” in which a man drinks too muchnand wishes he had married a cocktailnwaitress. Then there is “Bernie,” innwhich a free-spirited fellow writes ansuccessful movie. We get lots of poemsnwith stanzas like this one:nShe is in the middlenof preparing dinner. Tonightnshe is trying an experiment:nHal Bourgonyaual—nFish-Potato Casserole.nShe has cooked and drainednthe potatoesnand cut the fish in pieces.nNow she has to “mashnpotatoes,nadd butter and hot milk,”net cetera.nThis is camp. It is almost exactly thennnsame kind of camp that Simpson findsnthe elder Auden guilty of writing.nSimpson once announced his intentionnto write real poems about real peoplenwho live in the real world. There arenundoubtedly real women who assemblenreal fish potato casseroles, but they arenstill waiting for their real poem.nThe later poems of Simpson and ofnAuden boO down to a sort of weaklynironic sociology. In his poem “ThenFoggy Lane,” Simpson reports uponnmeeting a “radical” who “wanted to livenin a pure world.” He also met anninsurance agent who claimed that henneeded “more protection.” The poetnelects to join neither of these opposednforces of modern society, but to observe,ninstead, nature, “the pools madenby the rain, / and wheel-ruts, and wetnleaves, / and the rustling of small animals.”nBut he only makes of himself anthird kind of case history.nIn 1955 I met W.H. Auden at a beernjoint called Joe’s Chili House in Durham,nNorth Carolina. In the course ofnconversation he flashed, amusedly, annAmerican academic idiom he had obviouslynacquired only recently. “What,”nhe asked me, “is your major?” “Sociology,”nI replied, wondering if thatnmightn’t be the case. He made noncomment and I felt that I had not strucknthe right note. I tried a desperate littlenjoke (Brash Freshman Banters CelebratednPoet). “Or maybe alcoholism,” Insaid. “Well,” said he, gazing at me withnpurblind seriousness, “that’s certainlynmore respectable than sociology.”nIf, in their later years, Simpson andnAuden begin to resemble one anothernjust a little as the infection of sociologynmakes inroads upon their talents, it maynbehoove Simpson to show a little morencharity toward his fellow arriviste. It isnonly circumstance that Auden is sonmuch the more famous: the bestnSimpson is almost as good as the bestnAuden, and his worst is almost as badnas Auden’s worst. And like all Americans,nnative or naturalized, they bothnhave had to work hard to understandnwhat the nation is that they belong to,nand what it makes of them.nIn this America, this wildernessnWhere the axe echoes with anlonely sound.nThe generations labor to possessnAnd grave by grave we civilizenthe ground. <^nMARCH 1989/27n