Though a work of literature can be read in a number of ways, this number is finite and can be arranged in a hierarchical order; some readings are obviously “truer” than others, some doubtful, some obviously false, and some, like reading a novel backwards, absurd. That is why, for a desert island, one would choose a good dictionary rather than the greatest literary masterpiece imaginable, for, in relation to its readers, a dictionary is absolutely passive and may legitimately be read in an infinite number of ways.
From The Dyer’s Hand and Other Essays by W. H. Auden, English-American poet and essayist. Auden was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1948 for his long poem, The Age of Anxiety. His most popular poems include “Funeral Blues,” “Refugee Blues,” “The Unknown Citizen,” “Musée des Beaux Arts,” and “September 1, 1939.”