The Age of Auden: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene

The Age of Auden: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene

The Age of Auden: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene

The Age of Auden: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene

Synopsis

W. H. Auden's emigration from England to the United States in 1939 marked more than a turning point in his own life and work--it changed the course of American poetry itself. The Age of Auden takes, for the first time, the full measure of Auden's influence on American poetry. Combining a broad survey of Auden's midcentury U. S. cultural presence with an account of his dramatic impact on a wide range of younger American poets--from Allen Ginsberg to Sylvia Plath--the book offers a new history of postwar American poetry.


For Auden, facing private crisis and global catastrophe, moving to the United States became, in the famous words of his first American poem, a new "way of happening." But his redefinition of his work had a significance that was felt far beyond the pages of his own books. Aidan Wasley shows how Auden's signal role in the work and lives of an entire younger generation of American poets challenges conventional literary histories that place Auden outside the American poetic tradition. In making his case, Wasley pays special attention to three of Auden's most distinguished American inheritors, presenting major new readings of James Merrill, John Ashbery, and Adrienne Rich. The result is a persuasive and compelling demonstration of a novel claim: In order to understand modern American poetry, we need to understand Auden's central place within it.

Excerpt

When W. H. Auden died in 1973, Elizabeth Bishop offered this tribute in a special memorial issue of The Harvard Advocate:

When I was in college, and all through the thirties and for
ties, I and all my friends who were interested in poetry, read
him constantly. We hurried to see his latest poem or book, and
either wrote as much like him as possible, or tried hard not to.
His then leftist politics, his ominous landscape, his intimations
of betrayed loves, war on its way, disasters and death, matched
exactly the mood of our late-depression and post-depression
youth. We admired his apparent toughness, his sexual cour
age—actually more honest than Ginsberg’s, say, is now, while
still giving expression to technically dazzling poetry. Even the
most hermetic early poems gave us the feeling that here was
someone who knew—about psychology, geology, birds, love, the
evils of capitalism—what have you? They colored our air and
made us feel tough, ready, and in the know, too.

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