I treasure ruefully some memories of W.H. Auden that go back to the middle 1960s, when he arrived in New Haevn to give a reading of his poems at Ezra Stiles College. We had met several times before, in New York City and at Yale, but were only acquaintances. The earlier Auden retains my interest, but much of the frequently devotional later poetry does not find me. Since our mutual friend John Hollander [to whom The Anatomy of Influence is dedicated] was abroad, Auden phoned to ask if he might stay with my wife and me, remarking on his dislike of college guest suites.
The poet arrived in a frayed, buttonless overcoat, which my wife insisted on mending. His luggage was an attaché case containing a large bottle of gin, a small one of vermouth, a plastic drinking cup, and a sheaf of poems. After being supplied with ice, he requested that I remind him of the amount of his reading fee. A thousand dollars had been the agreed sum, a respectable honorarium more than forty years ago. He shook his head and said that as a prima donna he could not perform, despite the prior arrangement. Charmed by this, I phoned the college master--a good friend--who cursed heartily but doubled the sum when I assured him that the poet was as obdurate as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Informed of this yielding, Auden smiled sweetly and was benign and brilliant at dinner, then at the reading, and as he went to bed after we got home.
[More from this book.]