W.H. Auden: Contexts for Poetry

W.H. Auden: Contexts for Poetry

W.H. Auden: Contexts for Poetry

W.H. Auden: Contexts for Poetry

Synopsis

"W. H. Auden: Contexts for Poetry is an attempt to consolidate the critical findings of the last quarter century, and then take them a step further in the direction of seeing how some of Auden's most important poems can be better understood against the background of his own intellectual development and the often troubled history of his time. The book is at least as much an attempt to show how a certain type of critical methodology, which combines intellectual and social history, biography and textual analysis, helps to illuminate poems that have hitherto remained imperfectly understood. It also "contextualizes" Auden's poetry within the main parameters of existing Auden criticism, taking into account and evaluating the critical insights of the last two generations of Auden critics. This book is not a "survey" or a guide to all or even most of Auden's poetry, though it does follow the general outlines of Auden's development as a poet and thinker." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This is a book I have worked on (and off), in one way or another, for nearly twenty-five years. Whatever else this lengthy period of time may signify, it surely testifies to the enduring power of Auden's poetry to intrigue and fascinate, though naturally I hope that it has also helped to season my critical judgments and to situate them in a wider and deeper context. The book first began as an essay intended to debunk Auden's early poetry for what I thought was its parlor Marxism. In the process of reading my way through the poetry and criticism, I changed my mind. Still, though I had come to mock, I did not quite stay to worship. While my admiration for the poet as poet grew as my knowledge of his work deepened, my conviction that the poet as person was often fallible remained unchanged, as did my awareness that he was deeply conscious of that fallibility. Although he usually saw the better, he often followed the worse, or, at any rate, he followed the notso-good and sometimes even the silly. This is especially true of his early uncritical endorsement of the peculiar psychological theories of D. H. Lawrence, Georg Groddeck, and Homer Lane; of his hero worship of those great public posturers, T. E. Lawrence and Wyndham Lewis; as well as, a little later, his naive support of Marxism and Leninism. Auden's intellectual life shows a distinct pattern of needing leaders to admire as well as, paradoxically, a pattern of needing to reject them. This holds as true of Freud, Marx, and Rilke as it does of John Layard and D. H. Lawrence. The only hero who consistently remained heroic for him through later life was Charles Williams, though it is doubtful that he ever thought of Williams as “heroic” in the same way that he did the others.

To be sure, Auden's shifting intellectual, literary and political loyalties, especially during the thirties and early forties, may have been due, as Auden later sometimes claimed and possibly believed himself, to the absence of a real identity of his own. Was the young Auden perhaps only a kind of echo chamber, an intricate machine for making poetry, a person who had no real beliefs or convictions of his own? Is that why, when at last he did settle . . .

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