The Yeats-Auden-Amis-Updike Eulogy Connection

Martin Amis concludes his memorial assessment of John Updike in The Guardian (UK) with the sentence, "This is a very cold day for literature," doubtless a deliberate echo of W.H. Auden's great poem, "In Memory of W.B. Yeats," written almost exactly 70 Januarys ago, in which the line, "The day of his death was a dark cold day," is repeated twice.

Life imitating poetry:  On the morning of January 27th, 2009, the temperature in Danvers, Mass. registered in the low teens, peaked at 46.8-F, and sank below 20-F by midnight.  An even stranger coincidence with the poem, given Auden's reference to wolves in the second stanza, is the existence of a wolf sanctuary in nearby Ipswich.  I would say Updike's witches conjured it, but I've been there on a field trip with a bunch of fifth-graders.  My gardening coincidence with Ipswich is Completely Clematis, a truly unique nursery crawling in vines and Corgis (sadly my forays there never yielded any glimpses of Updike).

Although Updike's uniqueness resided more in prose than in verse, "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" is uncannily appropriate, for the novelist-Updike did indeed:

sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

Since some of the remembrances of Updike have tended toward the sticky and the chummy, and because poetry always delivers the most satisfying eulogy, I suggest taking Amis's nod all the way to the wintry bracing language of Auden's panegyric (I've always wanted to use that word in a blog).  Listen to "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" read by the poet in his own nasally unsentimental voice, and marvel at how many specific lines apply to John Updike (audio is sampled from the Voices of the Poet CD series, and is clickable from the Auden Society site's Recordings page:  click on the poem title under "Readings by Auden").

The poem's text is on poets.org.  See particularly the third stanza, with the line, "Silence invaded the suburbs."  Literature doesn't get more uncanny than that.

(William Safire once sought some stanzas Auden excised from Part III in the 1960s (scroll down);  those who are curious can read them on this other blog.  I think Auden was right to cut them, but heigh-ho, even his cuttings were pretty damn good.)

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