By Walton Litz
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Extra info for American Writers, Supplement 2
He responded to the event in the terms that, as a poet, he understood best, and the point he makes is stronger than any direct propaganda: Out of the air a voice without a face Proved by statistics that some cause was just In tones as dry and level as the place: No one was cheered and nothing was discussed This is a scene on a twentieth-century version of the shield that Hephaestos, in the Iliad, casts at the request of Thetis, mother of the warrior Achilles. But in Auden's poem the names of the god and goddess are replaced by the anonymous "he" and "she" because they do not act, and it is their impersonality that brings about the barren impersonality on the shield's images: She looked over his shoulder For vines and olive trees, But there on the shining metal His hands had put instead An artificial wilderness And a sky like lead.
Auden's verse form in much of his late work is largely a twentieth-century invention but one that stands outside the mainstream of modernism. He uses lines arranged by the number of syllables, without regular rhymes or regular patterns of stress. The form of "In Praise of Limestone" is alternating lines of thirteen and eleven syllables, with adjacent vowels (and vowels and h) arbitrarily counted as a single vowel, so that the in- or -ly home each count as one syllable only—a practice with a long classical ancestry.
If art comes directly from the experience of a people, and if, as Blues People clearly shows, that experience has obvious social implication, then the expression issuing from that experience will by definition have social—indeed, political—content. Thus armed with an intellectual basis for freeing himself from his apolitical "beat" pose, Jones in subsequent writings increasingly embodied the politics of cultural nationalism. Blues People also identifies the important elements in African music and speech from which blues and jazz derive.