Compared with 'Consider This and in Our Time', the first thing you notice about this poem is that it's written in traditional iambic pentameter form — perhaps as a gesture to English culture before its decline or perhaps as mocking irony?
A few words of explanation: in the first stanza Piero di Cosimo's 'primal woods' refers to his painting 'Forest Fire' in Oxford's Ashmolean Museum. In the sixth stanza 'Pan's green father' who 'raps out / A burst of indecipherable Morse' refers to a woodpecker.
This poem seems to me to be a concise poetic history (anthropological, social, political, cultural, spiritual and mythological) of the English (British) forest (and, by analogy, English culture): from savage to sylvan to well-kempt — to coarsened, depleted and degraded. Forests used to cover Britain; now there are only patches left. This theme of woodland (and cultural) destruction has, of course, increasing global resonance. I think the general direction of the poem is clear, but, as often with Auden, there are frequent obscurities: who are 'those vast lives that never took another / And are not scared of gods, ghosts, or stepmother'? (Stanza 4.) Why does the philologist feel at home in the forest's shade? (Stanza 5.) What is 'the water noise'? (Stanza 7.)
I love the lines 'The trees encountered on a country stroll / Reveal a lot about a country's soul' (Stanza 8.); and the very last line of the poem, 'A culture is no better than its woods', has the force of an undeniable truth.
What do you think about this poem?