There is one other author in my pack:
For some time I debated which to write to.
Which would least likely send my letter back?
But I decided that I'd give a fright to
Jane Austen if I wrote when I'd no right to,
And share in her contempt the dreadful fates
Of Crawford, Musgrove, and of Mr Yates.
Then she's a novelist. I don't know whether
You will agree, but novel writing is
A higher art than poetry altogether
In my opinion, and success implies
Both finer character and faculties.
Perhaps that's why real novels are as rare
As winter thunder or a polar bear.
The average poet by comparison
Is unobservant, immature, and lazy.
You must admit, when all is said and done,
His sense of other people's very hazy,
His moral judgments are too often crazy,
A slick and easy generalisation
Appeals too well to his imagination.
I must remember, though, that you were dead
Before the four great Russians lived, who brought
The art of the novel writing to a head;
The Book Society had not been bought.
But now the art for which Jane Austen fought,
Under the right persuasion bravely warms
And is the most prodigious of forms.
She was not an unshockable blue-stocking;
If shades remain the characters they were,
No doubt she still considers you as shocking.
But tell Jane Austen, that is, if you dare,
How much her novels are beloved down here.
She wrote them for posterity, she said;
'Twas rash, but by posterity she's read.
You could not shock her more than she shocks me;
Beside her Joyce seems innocent as grass.
It makes me most uncomfortable to see
An English spinster of middle class
Describe the amorous effect of "brass",
Reveal so frankly and with such sobriety
The economic basis of society.
According to the "letter," Auden is in Iceland and brought two authors with him: Lord Byron and Jane Austen. So, we have a (then) living poet telling a dead poet why novel-writing is a more "prodigious" form, a more insightful form, given to finer detail rather than hazy, vague generalities of the poet.