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Auden at Milwaukee

(This is a note from my diary written on my sixty-first birthday, February 28, 1970, after dining with Auden on his sixty-third birthday, February 26, 1970, in New York.)

Dined with Auden. He’d been at Milwaukee
Three days, talking to the students.
“They loved me. They were entranced.” His face lit up the scene.
I saw there the picture of him, crammed into
Carpet bag clothes and carpet slippers,
His face alone alive alone above them.
I saw him negotiate himself into the room
An object, a prize, a gift that knows its worth,
Measuring his value out to them on scales
Word weighed by word, absorbed in his own voice.
He knows they’re young and, better, that he’s old.
He shares remoteness from them like a joke.
They love him for it. This because they feel
That he belongs to none yet gives to all.
They see him as an object, artifact, face that time
Has carved criss-cross with all these lines, and has opacity
And yet a core inside that burns.
Surrounding him with all their eyes,
They know a tenderness that’s hewn.

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