Time that is intolerant
of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
This doesn't entirely ruin the poem -- Part I remains astonishing, as do some of the surviving stanzas from Part III ("Intellectual disgrace/Stares from every human face/And the seas of pity lie/Locked and frozen in each eye"). But I do wonder if it would have become one of my favourites if I'd read this version first. And it also makes me wonder what I might be missing as I read poems less familiar to me.
Revising a poem that's already been published has always struck me as pointless and unfair. It reminds me a bit of the habit some bloggers and message board users have of going back and substantially editing old posts, thus rendering absurd or irrelevant any responses they've received in the meantime. So annoying is this practice that the administrators of some message boards disable editing or block members who abuse it.
I'm told there's no collection that includes both Auden's originals and his revised versions. Perhaps we'll have to wait till his work goes out of copyright.