The Pattern of Personae

JUSTIN REPLOGLE

In “Nocturne I an otherwise unassuming poem in The Shield of Achilles [SA], the speaker makes a most unusual public statement. He admits that he is pulled in different directions by highly contradictory impulses, and, dividing his personality in half, he gives separate beliefs and voices to each. While they squabble over apparent trivialities, these voices carry on a familiar debate that for nearly thirty years had smoldered beneath the surface of Auden’s poetry. These are the voices of two opposing parts of Auden’s temperament, and their opposition, more than anything else, has made his poetry the kind of thing it is. In “Nocturne I” the moon, that old poetic stage prop, makes them flare up once more. “Adore Her, Mother, Virgin, Muse,’” begins one voice in full fustian, singing robes firmly in place, declaiming from some high podium. “‘You will not tell me,’” responds the other, feet and style solidly on the ground, “‘That bunch of barren craters care/Who sleeps with or who tortures whom’” (SA). Labeled “heart” and “mind” in the poem, these two “natures” (Auden’s term) in reality are the voices of much larger and more complicated pans of Auden’s poetic self. I propose to call them Poet and Antipoet.

Since by nature language is a lively thing, the mere repeated appearance of the terms Poet and Antipoet will soon tend to turn these abstractions into metaphor, metaphor into allegory; and before long Poet and Antipoet will seem to be living entities romping around in some physical organism called “Auden,” moving his hand across this line, choosing that image for his pencil, directing his every breath like Groddeck’s It. This can threaten to turn a critical tool into an imaginative drama with a will of its own. I will begin then with some definitions and disclaimers designed to make tools remain tools. By “Auden” I mean not the flesh and blood mortal, but the Grand Persona, the Maker

From Auden’s Poetry. Copyright © 1969 by the University of Washington Press.

-21-

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W.H. Auden
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Modern Critical Views ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Editor’s Note vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Some Notes on the Early Poetry 7
  • Auden at Sixty 13
  • The Pattern of Personae 21
  • Auden after the Thirties 47
  • Auden, Hopkins, and the Poetry of Reticence 55
  • Only Critics Can’t Play 63
  • Artifice and Self-Consciousness in the Sea and the Mirror 69
  • An Oracle Turned Jester 91
  • The Rake’s Progress- An Operatic Version of Pastoral 101
  • Auden’s Revision of Modernism 111
  • The Orators- Portraits of the Artist in the Thirties 121
  • The Romantic Tradition in the Age of Anxiety 135
  • Disenchantment with Yeats- From Singing-Master to Ogre 161
  • Chronology 177
  • Contributors 181
  • Bibliography 183
  • Acknowledgments 185
  • Index 187
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