Actually, there’s just one poem on my hit list right now. There are poems I don’t like and poems that don’t do anything for me when I read them, but I hate As I Walked Out One Evening by W.H. Auden. I hate it because it starts out by making me love it. It starts out like a love poem, or maybe a nursery rhyme like The Cow Jumped Over the Moon:
“I’ll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.
Then it turns a corner into bleak, and it’s the betrayal of love, or the impermanence of it:
“In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.
I don’t mind the bleakness, a bleak poem can be a hard kind of comfort when everything around you feels hopeless or insubstantial. No, it’s the line about Jill on her back that makes me cringe every time. I can’t read it as anything but sexualized and pejorative and reducing Jill, standing in for woman, as Jack stands in for man, to sex–and not the freely given kind, but the kind that is bought and treated like a dirty commodity.
So, what poems do you hate?