W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden


Attacking bad books is not only a waste
of time but also bad for the character


While an author is yet living we estimate his powers by his worst
performance, and when he is dead we rate them by his best


Secondary Worlds is a bad book, and Auden’s worst performance. These four lectures in memory of T. S. Eliot deal in turn with Thomas Cranmer, a pious verse drama by Charles Williams; Icelandic sagas; the three opera libretti by Auden and Chester Kallman; the relation between Christian belief and the writing of poetry. Since the title. Secondary Worlds, refers to works of art as against “the primary world of our everyday social experience,” the rationale for printing these four talks as a book must be their linked relevance to what has long been Auden’s overt polemic against the Romantic view of poetry. Coleridge’s ill-chosen terms, Primary and Secondary Imagination, are here subverted by Auden’s wit, since by secondary Auden, unlike Coleridge, does mean “inferior.”

Of all Auden’s writings, Secondary Worlds comes most directly out of the neo-Christian matrix of modern Anglo-Catholic letters: Eliot, Williams, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien. I search in vain only for references to Dorothy Sayers. Auden compensates with a quotation from The Future of Belief, by Leslie Dewart, a book one might not otherwise know:

The Christian God is not both transcendent and immanent. He is
a reality other than being Who is present to being, by which presence
He makes being to be.

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