The Retreat of W. H. Auden

I DOUBT WHETHER any man living has read everything published by W. H. Auden, probably the most prolific poet-critic of the twentieth century. Not only the quantity but the range of Auden's writing is the most extensive of any contemporary poet's; what is more remarkable, everything he writes is readable. The luxuriance of the Auden bibliography, even in his mid-years, recalls the Victorians, who provided not only the high literature of their time but the popular literature as well. Auden, however, is not popular, any more than T. S. Eliot is popular. Like all Moderns he has eschewed popularity.

The Victorian analogy is a fair one. There is in the quantitative Auden as in the ideal Auden a comfortable paternalism and a sense of cultural responsibility which dates back to the days of Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley, and the great novelists who wrote--who must have written--eight hours a day for decades. There is a pervasive and convincing pastness about Auden's writing which always leaves me wondering whether he really is a twentieth-century

-115-

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In Defense of Ignorance
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments v
  • Contents vii
  • To the Reader ix
  • The Critic In Spite of Himself 3
  • T. S. Eliot: the Death Of Literary Judgment 35
  • Ezra Pound: the Scapegoat Of Modern Poetry 61
  • W. B. Yeats: Trial By Culture 87
  • The Retreat of W. H. Auden 115
  • William Carlos Williams: The True Contemporary 143
  • Dylan Thomas 171
  • The First White Aboriginal 187
  • The Jewish Writer In America 205
  • Poets and Psychologists 219
  • The Unemployed Magician 239
  • What is Not Poetry? 263
  • Poets of the Cosmic Consciousness 287
  • The Greatest Living Author 313
  • About the Author *
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