When I was growing up, Auden was a presence not only on our shelves at home (as co-editor, with Norman Holmes Pearson, of the anthology The Poet's Tongue, which my mother had acquired at Bryn Mawr around 1935, and additionally as the author of the Introduction to Rae Dalven's translation of Cavafy) but also in the New York of the Sixties. In the fall of 1966, a few months after my father's death, my mother and sister and I were invited to dinner at the home of Jason and Barbara Epstein. Auden in his slippers was the other guest.
But I don't recall many early encounters with Auden's work. The occasional poems I came across in anthologies-"Time Will Say Nothing" or "Oh Where Are You Going"-had, it now seems to me, suffered more than anthologized poems usually do from being plucked out of context and transplanted into an alien environment. In such small, deracinated samples, what I was later to learn to recognize as Auden's characteristically urbane and complicated tone didn't have space to develop. Or perhaps I was simply too callow to read Auden's poetry even in tiny doses.
So where, as Roberto Calasso keeps on asking in his enchanting compendium of myths The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony-where did it all begin? Good question. Poetic influence is surprisingly murky and hard to trace. Although I had been writing poems since high school, the only really direct precursor I can recall was, I assume, a temporary one: e.e. cummings. That is, cummings is the one poet I can remember consciously sitting down (in study hall, I think, in the ninth grade at Riverdale) to emulate. And yes, it was exciting and fun, a year or so later, to write Shakespearean sonnets. But the other poets I was reading in my teens, from Frost to Pope, were subliminal influences if they were influences at all.
Fast-forward past the college years (in no particular order: Harvard Advocate; Lowell a somewhat threatening element in the air; Robert Fitzgerald much gentler and subtler; discovery of Plath; courses in Roman elegy and Lucretius) to Athens in 1969. This was the place and time where, having first met James Merrill, Alan Ansen, and Chester Kallman, I began to read their poetry. Merrill's was the voice that proved most seductive to me; I would learn later that I was not the only one among my contemporaries to be enthralled by this person and this poetry. Auden was a presence-in fact I did encounter him in the flesh once, at Chester's apartment-but not a particularly approachable one. When, in March 1970, Alan Ansen gave me John Fuller's A Reader's Guide to W. H. Auden, the inscription "A cart before a heavenly horse" was all too accurate.
In the early Seventies, I began to read Auden's work. His poetry still felt imposing and mysterious (even when I thought I could understand it, which wasn't always) in ways Catullus or Frost or Merrill did not. Perhaps it was Auden's apparently endless knowledge, and the way this knowledge and his opinions about everything from opera to whodunits had woven themselves into the voice of his poetry, that made me turn more confidently to the prose of Auden's I encountered: A Certain World, his commonplace book, and the essay collections The Dyer's Hand and Forewords and Afterwords.
When I did finally turn to the poetry, although the same urbane, authoritative sensibility was everywhere in evidence, the poems themselves were very varied in tone and diction as well as formally. Had I claimed to be influenced by Auden's poetry at this point, it would surely make a difference whether I had in mind "Miss Gee," "This Lunar Beauty," or "Letter to Lord Byron." And the wonderful sequences-not only "The Sea and the Mirror" but "Horae Canonicae," "Bucolics," and About the House, as well as the more indigestible large structures such as For the Time Being or The Age of Anxiety: in what way could they be assimilated by a young poet like me whose work was overwhelmingly personal? Perhaps it was the magisterially public tone of much (not all!) of Auden that prevented me from thinking of him as a potential influence. Still, by the end of the Seventies I'd evidently absorbed enough of Auden's work that the horse was where it belonged, in front of the cart.
But poetic influence? In graduate school I continued to write poetry. Stevens was an influence; so, by now, was Merrill. I never consciously regarded Auden as a model, in part, I imagine, because he seemed to know everything. His poetic voice was infinitely wise, his range enormously wide; my subjects were love, displacement, loss, growing up. His tone was complex and worldly; mine was intimate and self-pitying. I needed to do a good deal of growing up before it would occur to me to write in Auden's manner, whichever of his many formal modes I might emulate.
And yet having said all this, now that nearly thirty years have passed since his death, I can detect traces of Auden in my work. Nor is this surprising; after all, I have loved his poetry for many years. Here are a few examples, and there are probably many others. In a 1976 poem I've never collected and had forgotten for years (it turned up serendipitously, thanks to Rachel Wetzsteon, around the time I was invited to write these reflections), I incorporate a line from The Rake's Progress. The poem, "Sunburn," occasioned by a bad burn I got in March of that year, opens "Like Shadow I can say 'I burn, I freeze.'" (That line, four words of it Auden's (or Kallman's), is the best in the poem. I forbear to quote more.) In the mid-Seventies I was indeed reading lots of Auden and listening repeatedly to the opera. Did I expect anyone to grasp the allusion? I doubt that I thought of it that way. The devil's words as he is sent back to hell in the last act simply seemed to evoke my painful burn better than any others. I don't know that quoting from a poet constitutes influence, exactly; what it does show is that at this point Auden was a presence for me. In however piecemeal a way, I had started to assimilate him.
The other traces of Auden I find in my poetry are much more recent. With time, my work has gotten more urbane, less solipsistic. Rather than recording a single incident or mood, my poems-sometimes longer now, more leisurely, and also more ambitious-are apt to range in time and space away from their starting point. Two poems from the early Nineties, "The Friend" and "The Hermit," are both written in the rhymed tetrameter couplets of "New Year Letter," which at that time I had been rereading and savoring. Both are meditations, structured like essays rather than narratives, on life and literature, letter-writing and love, landscape and thought.
As far as newer work goes, two poems forthcoming in my next book (Indelible, Wesleyan University Press, 2001) come to mind. Entitled "Bedtime Stories" and "Fathers and Daughters, Mothers and Sons,"-both are several pages long (too long to quote here); both are written in rhymed stanzas. Both are conversational, almost anecdotal in tone; neither is shy about including literary and other cultural references, from Samuel Barber to the Olympia Press to Nintendo Power, as well as references to the names of friends or cities or hospitals.
It would be utterly presumptuous to compare the quality of any of these poems of mine to that of such Auden poems as "Out on the lawn I lie in bed" or "September 1, 1939;" it would be tedious to enumerate the differences in subject matter entailed by my being a woman and a mother, and so on. Nevertheless, I believe that Auden's own meditative and expansive but always controlled lyric broodings in such poems as "September 1" and "Out on the Lawn"-to name two of my favorites-had, by the late Seventies, become and thenceforth remained part of my poetic consciousness and hence potentially my poetic equipment.
From knowing and loving what has been done, it isn't such a long step to trying something of the same nature oneself. In years, the step was rather a long one; I had to be almost fifty to write the poems I've mentioned. But life, I am tempted to say, reversing the aphorism, is long; art is short. Auden's poems-any poems-were nearby, within my reach as soon as I read, reread, and understood them. But I had to be ready to reach out for them, and that took time.
Rachel Hadas is the author of many volumes of poetry, most recently Halfway Down the Hall, New and Selected Poems, published by Wesleyan University Press in 1998, as well as works of translations and criticism.
Question 1: Describe your first experience with Auden's work.
As with many who spent their infancy in that "low dishonest decade" of the Thirties, I did not encounter Auden's work until the following decade. However, since I grew up in Brisbane in the state of Queensland, I was even more out of touch than any contemporary in Britain or America. There were, of course, sophisticated Australians, and some Australian schools in the late Thirties and during the war would have included references to Auden in the curricula. Australian writers knew his poetry almost from the beginning, though in general the literary climate was hardly progressive.
My first encounter with Auden's name preceded my acquaintance with his poetry. I'm rather glad things happened as they did. In my secondary school, Toowoomba Grammar, in the Forties we used an English Poetry textbook which I liked but which only now can appreciate was an enlightened choice. This was Eight Poets, an abridged version of an Oxford University Press book issued (I think) in 1936-37, Fifteen Poets. In it a selection of the verse of eight of the great English poets was introduced by contemporary English writers. The list included MacNeice on Coleridge, Blunden on Shelley and Auden on Byron. Apart from the credits which told the reader that these men were Oxford-educated modern English poets, their names meant little to me. They were indistinguishable in my sight from any educator or critic. But I recognized, once I had read their contributions, the superiority of their choosing and the intelligence and clarity of their commentary. Auden's expository brilliance captured me at once. I can still recall, if inaccurately, some of his remarks-that Byron shared with Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde the distinction of being the only English literary figures famous on the continent; and that Byron's attack on the Duke of Wellington (opening of Canto Nine of Don Juan), while not equal to Pope's various philippics, was braver than anything of Pope's, since he would never have ventured to criticize so powerful a statesman. I also acquired by heart two of the stanzas from Canto One reproduced by Auden-those beginning "If ever I should condescend to prose" and "Though shalt believe in Milton, Dryden, Pope." I can still recite them from memory today. I didn't know then that this selection must have been made just after Auden returned from Iceland, and while he was putting the finishing touches to "Letter to Lord Byron."
A number of years passed before I happened on Auden again. I left school aged almost eighteen in 1946. We had survived the war unharmed thanks to the American battle fleet which destroyed a Japanese invasion armada in the Coral Sea. I matriculated to enter Queensland University but my father had exhausted his financial means sending me to boarding school for nine years, and as my exam results were mediocre I couldn't get a scholarship. But I had won the literary prizes at school and this led to my being taken on as a cadet reporter on the local morning paper in 1947. No start was ever less propitious or presumption of talent more absurd. I quickly learned that literature and journalism are light years apart-or at least a daily newspaper has nothing in common with poetry. Ironically, after my horrific mis-start I did indeed end up making my living in journalism-of the highbrow sort, becoming a freelance writer in 1968. This was far off in 1948 when I was summarily sacked from my paper. To discourse on the boredom and provincialism of post-Second World War life in Australia would be a wasteful diversion, but it is à propos here and may help to explain how I managed to reach university level without having even encountered the names of such modern masters of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. I was soaked in Browning and I identified with Bernard Shaw. Such are the strange enthusiasms of young people left to their own devices. Nowadays I think this rather a good thing, since educational orthodoxy with its pursuit of the dernier cri tends to produce students stuffed with false notions of historical inevitability an overestimation of the present.
After being sacked I went into the rag trade where I stayed until sailing for England in 1951. My work was banal but not demanding and it left me time to conduct a fierce campaign of self-education. I still bear all the marks of the auto-didact. I was more concerned with music than with literature, but I had no musical talent, only judgment. I was writing screeds of poetry and willy-nilly I had to have models. These were still rooted in the Seventeenth and Nineteenth Centuries. I was never fond of the Romantics and had already enough sense to see that the Augustans cannot be imitated. One day in 1948 I picked up a newly published book of verse in a shop: The Age of Anxiety by W. H. Auden. I bought it and, as in the Book of Tobit, the scales fell from my eyes. Suddenly I thought I understood that poetry could be written in our own time. Today I would not rank The Age of Anxiety among the finest of Auden's works (nor I think did he), but for me it was an example of something happening on the road to Damascus. I appreciated immediately that what I needed to spur my writing was to be overwhelmed by virtuosity and to escape from reasonable worthiness. While all his life Auden remained loyal to intelligibility, he also possessed an abundance of ornamentality and sheer exuberance. I didn't know it then but just picking up The Age of Anxiety protected me against "plain cooking made still plainer by plain cooks." Thereafter my reading of poetry was a monstrous if biased programme of catching-up. I have never caught up with W. C. Williams for instance any more than I have with Schönberg and Charles Ives. But other even more obviously experimental artists have swum into my ken without too much difficulty-Ashbery, Ligeti, Kurt Schwitters. I tried to follow this annunciation with as much as I could find of the whole armature of modern poetry, which wasn't a lot in Australia at that time. Auden's poetry was a planting-out of crops in an arid landscape for me. My Garden of Eden remains a strange place: the Christopher Smart vine flourished but the Hopkins creeper withers. It was only a matter of a few months after encountering The Age of Anxiety till I had absorbed almost everything which Auden had written to that date. My special favorites were The Orators, Letters from Iceland and The Dog Beneath the Skin. I have yet to see a decent production of Dogskin, but I think it should be in the permanent repertory of the English National Theatre. It is as resonantly English as Gilbert & Sullivan, and just as brilliantly written. Even as recently as last year I chose the play as my nomination for a neglected masterpiece and delivered a talk about it at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. I have a large haul of unpublished verse, a good deal of it written between the years 1948 and 1961, when I published my own first book of poems, on which insignia of Auden is all too clearly branded. But I consider him a less destructive model than Yeats or Larkin. Fifty years of apparent sophistication on my part have not modified my love of his poetry.
Questions 2 & 3: What period of Auden's career has most influenced you? What particular poems do you like best and/or find most useful to you as a poet and why?
I propose to answer these questions together. I have been influenced by Auden's work from all stages of his career. It's really a matter of which particular poems have not only struck me with particular force but also which ones have seemed stylistic signposts which might lead to poems of my own. Thus historically vital brilliantly cryptic early work (Poems 1930) has never been an importance influence. I'm not sure why-perhaps because I didn't read them at the outset of my acquaintance with his work but slotted them in a little later, and so robbed them of some of their audacity. It was the poems which followed them throughout the Thirties which seemed to offer models-the poems of exegesis, the psychological landscapes, the lyrics and the unclassifiable but authoritative works which he collected in individual volumes such as Look Stranger and Another Time. Thus "Our Hunting Fathers," "The Witnesses," "O Love the interest itself in thoughtless heaven" (now uncollected and subject to an expert piece of examination by John Fuller), "Law Like Love" (a perfect piece of Jurisprudence according to a Law Professor friend), "Fish in the Unruffled Lakes," "Underneath the Abject Willow," "Who's Who" and other sonnets from the Thirties culminating in "Sonnets from China," still known to me as "In Time of War," of which my favorite remains the suppressed number 14 William Empson liked to quote, "Yes we are going to suffer now"-all of these mean much to me. I have always considered Auden the best lyric-writer in our language since The Earl of Rochester, a superiority due to his profound and innate knowledge of music together with a sinewy syntax very different from Tennysonian mellifluousness. I have been drawn to the doubtful charms of octosyllabic couplets by "New Year Letter," and probably by Swift reasonably enough, and by Belloc unfortunately. The central long poems are important to anyone who wishes to write verse of a more extended sort than lyrics, descriptive pieces or dramatic monologues. Many people's favorite among them is "The Sea and the Mirror" but I confess that beautiful as much of the writing is I find that this sequence has worn less well than I expected. A few years ago I attempted a reassessment of the work for The Auden Society Newsletter but after writing ten thousand words I gave up. I did so because of one of the penalties of Auden's originality and success. Suddenly everything seemed over-familiar and too characteristic. Auden had educated me to a point beyond my relishing him.
I have never been a partisan of the British Auden against the American one. Another Time, the volume published on the cusp of his change of country is perhaps his most perfect book and seems to look both ways. It is a distillation of his British sense of public poetry but it also seems to say farewell to "this land of ours where no one is well." The single book which has pleased me most when it appeared was Nones, perhaps because I read it at a crisis point in my own life, my first years in London. I find the American Auden more brilliant if less up front than the British, but do miss the idiomatic poet of the Thirties, a healing magus willing to jump to conclusions, a master of the arbitrary hardly worried by academic proprieties. Many of my favorite poems belong to his American, Italian and Austrian years-"The Fall of Rome," "An Island Cemetery," "Their Lonely Betters," "Under Sirius," "A Starling and a Willow-Wren," "The Shield of Achilles," "The History of Truth," "A Household," "The Cave of Making," "Et in Arcadia Ego" and "Lullaby"-all on the American side of the divide. Then there are his libretti, of which The Rake's Progress is a masterpiece of Hofmannsthal proportions. Elegy for Young Lovers and The Bassarids are both remarkable texts, and I continue to think that the book of Paul Bunyan is his most original and convincing evocation of America, despite its being written so soon after he came to New York. It effectively ritualizes America, where later on he had to struggle with real acquaintance with his chosen homeland, something he never fully achieved. Of course it was despised as a piece of presumption by a witty Englishman when first presented (two condescending Englishmen, the reviews said, taking Britten into account). The spirit of fun (indignant fun perhaps) which pervades the Group Theatre plays of the Thirties survives in Auden's later career in these libretti.
I could not imagine modern poetry without Auden's energetic squibs and essays, especially "Under Which Lyre," "The Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning," "Metalogue to The Magic Flute," "Dichtung und Wahrheit" and "Doggerel by a Senior Citizen." Long ago Auden wrote in his Introduction to The Oxford Book of Light Verse that up until Milton verse in English had always had something light about it. I am pleased that this monstrance remained with him all his life, to be set against his other warning that frivolity is the occupational disease of poets. I haven't mentioned those "argufying" (Empson's term) sequences, "Bucolics" and "Horae Canonicae": they seem to me examples of the best practice of hoisting commentary into the text and making art of it instead of allowing it to settle like silt below the matter of concern. All in all, it's Auden's instinct for the right form and diction for whatever he has to say which makes him so valuable a model.
Question 4: What technical/stylistic innovations do you find most helpful in Auden's work and why?
I'm of the opinion of James Fenton on this: Auden's technical influence lies not in any specific area of versification but in his example. For all that at the start of his career he could be perceived, as Wyndham Lewis put it, as "the new guy who's got into the landscape," his lasting effect on verse in English has been to point practitioners to the storehouse of the past and to challenge us to raid it for whatever we want. For all its stylistic asperity Modernism has been a Draconian lawmaker, urging writers to forswear traditional resources. Auden has helped our deserts to flower. You might say that if he stresses the importance of writing about our present world and its concerns, still he is an opposer of such shibboleths as "historical inevitability," "the age demands," and "Make it new." Like many who have come to be seen as reactionaries, he has brought more of the observable world into his poetry than most accredited avant-garders. In this his is a case similar to Kipling's, as seen by Edmund Wilson-more of the modern world got into Kipling's backward facing poetics than will be found in all the writings of Marinetti and the Futurists. They used modernity as a fashion accessory and would have been incapable of a poem like "M'Andrew's Hymn." To them a piston's place was on the catwalk. Auden belongs ultimately to what I call "The Theatre of Eloquence," a more impressive place than its neighboring domains, the Theatres of Cruelty, Absurdity and Alienation. He believes in using any appropriate technique, the full palette and not some chic restriction of means. Thus he can be extraordinarily simple, as in "Their Lonely Betters" or baroque and lavish as in "Not in Baedeker" and Caliban's speech in "The Sea and the Mirror." To me he says-there is no resource, stanzaic or metrical form, or point-of-view which is wholly out-of-date and unusable, but the poem must have a refined instinct for what will work in each case. Like all writers, with the single exception of George Herbert, he doesn't always bring this off. The pastiche in The Rake's Progress is preferable to the pastiche in Delia-A Masque of Night. Who else has done so much to restore the standing of Light Verse, formerly one of the great glories of English Poetry? He has liberated talent in others: in England, in Gavin Ewart and Kit Wright; and dozens in America. To sum up, his usefulness is that he has made us unafraid of models.
Question 5: Your poems often display a formal mastery. What is it like to write in form after Auden?
My response arises from my answer to the preceding question. Only rarely have I tried to use any specific form or contraption directly in imitation of Auden. Rather it has been a matter of tone and response. Occasionally, to my distress, I have noticed phrases and constructions which seem almost liftings from him, but in general his influence has been subliminal. As a digression, I would assert that my practice has been sometimes to imitate poets not only far from my taste but ones I positively dislike. Your temperament often shines if you are working against, not with, a model. Opposition, criticism, desire to down-grade some writer can offer you a worthwhile technical challenge. Or trying to adjust the natural torque of your personality can take you into regions where originality of utterance is thrust upon you. Deep down in the psyche oppositions may seem like forms of the same gestalt. Like Empson I wander from my strict categories so that almost everything becomes "A Version of Pastoral." Auden comes to almost this conclusion himself in "Vespers" from "Horae Canonicae" when the rivals, champions of Eden and New Jerusalem, after having noted that the first hopes that a person who doesn't like Bellini will have the good taste not to be born, and the second that someone who doesn't like work will wish he hadn't been born, end up acknowledging that without a common cement of blood (spilled presumably in their quarrel) no secular wall will stand.
One reason for imitating Auden closely or specifically is the perfectly proper envy you feel for his achievement. You don't want to rival him or write like him: you simply want to have written the very poems he wrote. Thus, no matter how cleverly I imitated him, I'd always know that "Under Sirius," "The Shield of Achilles" or "Sing first that green remote Cockaigne" are poems that Auden cheated me out of by composing them first. I want them to be mine.
Question 6: Have you been influenced by Auden's public personal (both in England and America)?
Influenced, no, but always interested. I like to quote various of his obiter dicta and proverbial sayings. I think of him as a moral and artistic authority but am also entertained by his idiosyncrasies. I think Stravinsky was right when he spoke favorably of Auden as a moralist-one of the few, he considered, who maintained a heuristic approach. Many of Auden's attitudes are sympathetic to me: the poet should fulfill his responsibility to the state (jury service, prompt payment of taxes, general fiscal propriety, accepting underpaid work on committees and the like). I am not however such a stickler as he was for settling bills on time. Nor can I as readily suppress my instinct for self-pity. I could never be the proper self-analyst. There is too much of the wet-leg in me.
Question 7: When you write a poem, how conscious are you of the process of influence? What is the difference between writing a poem that specifically alludes to Auden and a poem where Auden is not directly visible? In what ways are the process of influence and your sense of the poetic tradition, while you are writing, different at different times?
To some extent I have covered this set of questions already and will try to answer each question briefly. (A) Auden's influence, as I stated previously, comes from his whole personality and it is this sense of his presence when you are composing your own poem which might be felt, particularly if the theme is one he has been attracted to. (B) A poem of mine specifically mentioning Auden is likely to be a piece of cultural journalism. I can think of two recent occasions: one entitled "Auden's Juvenilia" which is a gloss on that book of his earliest, mostly unpublished, verse edited by the Newsletter's luminary Katherine Bucknell; and a poem published in Verse magazine in the US in 1998, "Scrawled on Auden's Napkins." This mocks an aspect of his character, perhaps to add a little lemon to my over-sweet appreciation in general. His attitude to food is the main subject but employed to criticize some of his slightly ridiculous aperçus about eating, notably the notion that for anyone who consumes his God in the Eucharist an omelet may be a Christian deed. But I end up applauding more than disapproving his attitude to the fallen human state. Only one elaboration of his views of our predatoriness truly distresses me-I object to that nasty little verse "Economics."
In the Hungry Thirties
boys used to sell their bodies
for a square meal.
In the affluent Sixtiesthey still did:
to meet Hire-Purchase Payments.
Is there something immoral in the poor wishing to enjoy the creature comforts the Middle Class take for granted? I'm surprised that good sense didn't prompt him to scrap this squib. On the other hand I have no objection to "Uncle Harry" since it is a dramatic monologue. (C) I think this deserves a twisting answer. Namely that it will depend on the time. Writing is more of a knack of the hand than of the brain. We follow where our excitement takes us. Too much criticism is post-hoc, a seeking of paths already adopted instinctively.
Question 8: What has Auden made possible for younger poets?
Answered in part in questions 2 and 3. Here I would just say that he gave them something they needed and still need, a gesture away from over-academic rules. They are all too often forced to seek the vanguard of contemporary styles in poetry. He offers them instead the cornucopia of English Verse and suggests that there may be something in this inheritance which suits their own inclinations. It is the proper approach to the Poundian dictum, "Make it new!", the it being the legacy of the past. This hardly seems an unusual approach but in the world of reportable innovation it has become so. Auden reminds us that while many seek employment and reward in teaching institutions, academic activity, and even academic ambition, need not stifle creativity. So, surprisingly, does Eliot, whose institutionalizing in Faber & Faber and as a Chelsea Sidesman at least kept him out of universities.
Questions 9 &10: What, if anything, was available to Auden as a poet, as a member of the 'twenties generation, that is not available to you, as a member of a younger generation? Does the fact that Auden was English affect the influence he has had on you as an Australian poet? Do you feel that, as an Australian, your sense of yourself as a poet is necessarily different from Auden's sense of himself as a poet? Both you and Auden left your native countries to take up residence elsewhere; do you think that affects the way you both write poetry and the way you think of him in terms of your own life? Or do you think that the question of nationality does not affect your relationship to Auden?
Answering question number 9 first: Confidence. It was still the case in Auden's early days that to be an Englishman was to be at the heart of world influence. I would not discount even the ludicrous side of this confidence. I should love to have been part of such an ascendancy whereby young Oxbridgers were automatically respected in the world at large, whether they deserved to be or not. After all, Auden demonstrated that unearned confidence can be put to good use. However revolutionary the enthusiasms of these young Englishmen, and however determined they were to jettison their heritage, they never doubted it or its place in the world. Remember that moment in Journey to a War when Auden and Isherwood encounter Peter Fleming behind Chinese lines. As they appear, he languidly greets them, "Hello you two." Edmund Wilson enjoyed, as any unpriggish reader will, the Auden and MacNeice Last Will and Testament from the Iceland book, but he also marveled at the way two young men of their background could know just about everybody in Britain who mattered. America, for all its world power, is still not as tight-knit as that. Later, of course, this very decentralization was what was attractive to Auden about America. Family are wonderful but you don't want to live with them. As an Australian and an outsider in the UK, I envy Auden both his original birthright and his courage in choosing to renounce it. I can get some way into the English psyche if not its Establishment, but will go on feeling an air-plant all my life. This has become my chosen way of life and perhaps the ground on which I wish to make my poetry. Auden had little use for Britain's surviving colonies: he was attracted to the US which had thrown off the British yoke and not to the bits of the Empire which remained. I remember some words of his in Encounter when he endorsed Britain's joining the European Common Market by stressing how little he felt for the Dominions-he dismissed them as "tiefste Provinz." I met him only a few times but once after I'd interviewed him for the BBC at Edinburgh during the Festival someone spoke to me in his presence and revealed that I was an Australian. He had been away from England long enough to have lost recognition of local accents and hadn't recognized mine. He expressed surprise but summed up his feelings by telling me that he could not bear to live in a country whose spring arrived in September. On this occasion also he nominated a haggis as the present he'd like the authorities to give him for his appearance (see my earlier observations of his fondness for food.)
There is still something covetable about being English, though Australians don't think so. But Auden also admonished the English: he reprimanded them that they, not the Germans, think of themselves as "das Herrenvolk." Yet he wrote "America can break your heart." For all that Christ Church High Table treated him churlishly, he remained an Englishman, in the full W. S. Gilbert sense. Comparing myself with him, since we both left our natal homes, is a pretty unbalanced thing to do. I left provincial Australia very young (21) and brought no reputation with me, not even a flicker of recognition in my homeland. I was consciously choosing a place (England) where I might make a career for myself. Auden left a land he found was already distressingly overfond of him. He was seeking not anonymity but a tougher environment. And he was internationalizing himself more effectively than he had managed to do in Berlin. It's been remarked on often enough that Isherwood headed immediately for California, the America of the Future, while Auden hardly left New York or its outposts (the colleges of Eastern and Middle America where he taught)-what you might call the America of the Diaspora. He seems to have thought, as did many intellectuals of European origin, that the United States was Europe reborn and better done. He quoted Goethe, "Amerika, du hast es besser/ als unser Kontinent, das alte,/ hast keine verfallenen Schlösser/ und keine Basalte." Such a view is just about permissible in Goethe, but Auden should have known better. There are no new starts. He lived long enough to see "Rust Belt" America and the various new starts of the Millennial Capitalism. I am sure that his migration to America was a working-out of his own Id and Ego, and less to do with any sustainable vision of an historical new beginning. Among his many (and often unnecessary) disownings of past utterance, "new styles of architecture, a change of heart" was one of the most deeply felt. I think he eventually found a good way to live-America for immediate responsibility and civic success, and Europe for projectionist and historical enlightenment. He worked hard in both domains. Only at the end when he decided to return to England did the pattern break down. Many poets today seek isolation-what is needed is a regimen not a homeland. I take little consolation, if not encouragement, from Auden's expatriation. But the country of ME is still a difficult land.
Question 11: What is your perception of the public place that Auden now occupies? He is probably not as influential and imposing a figure today as he was in his lifetime, but what role do you think he still plays in shaping the contemporary poetic climate? What place do you think he occupies today in the poetry worlds of England and of Australia?
Auden is not popular with young writers and undergraduates reading English in Britain and I'm told in Australia. His serious fame was at its height with the generation which runs from John Fuller to James Fenton, and straggles on with Sean O'Brien and Glyn Maxwell. That is the case in Britain. His influence has been more pronounced in the States with poets such as Anthony Hecht, Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov, and many more. This American influence springs as much from his moral example as from his poetry. Despite W. C. Williams and Wallace Stevens, the United States seem to have been proud that Auden chose to become American. In the Thirties when he was probably the most celebrated native-born poet since Tennyson, the English too looked on him as a badge of national superiority. The traitor label changed that in the war, though I recall the ceremony at Westminster Abbey in 1974 when John Betjeman unveiled the memorial slab to him in Poet's Corner. British pride seemed to have claimed him back again. I wrote a little tanka at the time:
On the steps after
the Memorial Service
for Auden, five men
Establishment in full view!
In the Forties in America Auden the teacher and aphorist-purveyor took over, though this was also the period of his most masterly poetic activity. I never really believed in Auden the celebrity reader in public, having observed his patchy performance at London's Poetry International Festivals in the Sixties and early Seventies. Some aspects of British distrust of him at that time are forgivable, though they exemplify the uncharitable feelings which leaving home arouse in British minds. When he turned up at the end of the war in his smart U.S. Air Force uniform for the Strategic Bombing Survey, many British who had gone through six years of privation were not chuffed (lovely British word!) to be reminded that their country had been down-graded to an unimportant archipelago off the coast of Europe. Those admirers not personal friends find it easy to admit that he has been an inspiration throughout their lives. By a sort of "Double Man" rift in my personality I find myself veering between Auden and Wallace Stevens in seeking a master. Auden and Stevens are not just very different but wholly opposed aesthetically. Both are way beyond my capacity and it bothers me a little that I can find so much to enjoy in each while knowing how diametrically opposite they are. Stevens is Shakespearean in the scale of his gifts, but also he has ichor not blood in his veins. Auden is perhaps the most fully human of the Twentieth Century writers.
I value Auden for his poetry and love his work for what it tells me about humanity, and about good and bad behavior. I love it even more for its combination of formal adroitness and ability to entertain. All of this is more to the point than worrying about his influence on poets today. Perhaps he is as much of a full stop in one line of development in poetry as Richard Strauss, another artist I enjoy just this side of idolatry, is in music. And has any poet had such devoted and intelligent custodians as Auden? Edward Mendelson's editions and critical books and John Fuller's magisterial concordance and explication of the whole poetic corpus offer the student of Auden a commentary unrivaled in that of any contemporary writer. A week does not go by when I don't take down one of Auden's books. Some of his influences are not mine. Passing a pub in Oxford recently where the Inklings met, I wondered all over again what Auden could have seen in the works of Charles Williams, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. But I also reflected that he made good use in his own poetry of the unattractive teachings of these men. As a poet prized everywhere, he is much more than some valley cheese. And I am sure he will last. One daunting thought: I have already lived five years longer than he managed to. Obviously I shall never catch up.
Peter Porter is the author of more than fifteen volumes of poetry. His two-volume Collected Poems was published by Oxford University Press last year.
Auden's friendship with Margaret Gardiner has long been a matter of public record. Auden first met Margaret in Berlin at Easter 1929 through their mutual friend John Layard, and soon afterwards Auden stayed with her in Gamlingay in Cambridgeshire, where she was working as an elementary school teacher. Subsequently, Margaret helped Auden find work as a tutor in London and the two remained life-long friends.
At one point in her Memoir Margaret Gardiner recalls a visit she made to Larchfield Academy in Helensburgh, Scotland not long after Auden began teaching there in the spring of 1930. Her recollections of Helensburgh, along with those of Edward Upward, Anne Fremantle and Arnold Snodgrass, have hitherto been our only eye-witness accounts of Auden at this time, except for the fleeting memories of one or two of his ex-pupils. At the beginning of 1932, however, Margaret's elder brother Rolf followed in his sister's footsteps and recorded in his diary his conversations with, and impressions of, Auden and Auden's surroundings.
Margaret and (Henry) Rolf Gardiner were the children of the distinguished Egyptologist Sir Alan Gardiner and his part Austro-Hungarian Jewish, part Swedo-Finnish wife, Hedwig, née von Rosen. Rolf was born on 5 November 1902 in Fulham, London, spent his childhood in Berlin, and his boyhood at West Downs school (1913-16), at Rugby (1916-18) and at Bedales (1918-20). He read Modern and Medieval Languages at St John's College, Cambridge (1921-24), and, beginning in 1923, organized reciprocal tours of German choirs to England and English folk dancers to Germany. Gardiner was also involved in promoting self-help schemes in, among other places, Silesia and Yorkshire, and in 1928 his new role as a farmer and forester in Dorset began. Towards the end of a life dedicated to agriculture, Gardiner was made High Sheriff of Dorset (1967-68). He died not long afterwards, on 26 November 1971.
When Rolf visited Helensburgh, Auden had recently completed The Orators, a work largely influenced by Auden's reading of D. H. Lawrence. The theme of this work, Auden told Naomi Mitchison, was the "failure" of Lawrence's conception of personality, but in many parts of the work, Auden's use of Lawrentian concepts seems largely uncritical. Rolf Gardiner, even more than Auden, was deeply influenced by Lawrence. At Cambridge Gardiner became Lawrence's most ardent promoter and adherent: "You may laugh, you may sneer," he wrote in Youth, his undergraduate newspaper, "but I tell and foretell you, that the words of D. H. Lawrence will burn and tingle on the lips of men, when the dingy carpings of men like James Joyce and Marcel Proust, of Lytton Strachey and Sigmund Freud, of Sidney Webb and Maynard Keynes will have long, long been consumed beneath the vanished débris of our potty civilization" (Rolf Gardiner, "D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) and Youth Movements of the 'Twenties," Wessex: Letters from Springhead, no.2 [4th ser.] [Christmas 1959], 38-47). Gardiner first wrote to Lawrence in 1924 and received a friendly reply. In December 1926, Lawrence wrote to Gardiner, ". . .I will try to come to England and make a place-some quiet house in the country. . . I should depend on you as the organizer of the activities, and the director of activities" (The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, v, 591). David Ellis has described Gardiner as "perhaps Lawrence's first genuine disciple," (David Ellis, D. H. Lawrence: Dying Game 1922-1930 [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998], 308). But, as one student of their relationship has argued, the novelist was himself influenced by his follower: "Lawrence's later emphases on man's relation to his natural environment were themselves affected by his contact with Gardiner" (W. J. Keith, "Spirit of Place and Genius Loci: D. H. Lawrence and Rolf Gardiner," D. H. Lawrence Review, 7, no.2 [Summer 1974], 127-38).
Although there is no mention of Lawrence in Gardiner's diary account of his meeting with Auden, Auden's preoccupation at the time with the Lawrentian themes of The Orators (the relationship between sexuality and social revolution) are quite evident.
30 Jan  Edinburgh - Helensburgh
. . .By the 1 p.m. to Glasgow and then out along the Clydebank to Helensburgh. Auden met me and we walked to the hotel. Then we talked: in his rooms, at tea, at supper, talked our heads off. He is full of remarkable good sense and profound perspicacity. We agreed very far on most topics. He said one or two stuttering things such as that the revolution in England was coming from the dissatisfied professional classes, sons of country parsons etc.: and that sex-overemphasis and homosexuality were the result of failure to get satisfactory social relations. He read me aloud a Birthday Ode to both the sons of Rex and Frances Warner: a rattling good thing full of gusto, humour, courage and body: real faith. I liked it really. I think however I like Auden's intelligence at present more than him. He himself is indistinct. I find him a bit muddy-looking, the order of healthy clayey mud that lies in country lanes, thick with pale yellow straws the colour of his hair. He walks with a vast stride, even that I have to skip into step. And smokes cigarettes sans intermission.
He left me after supper, which we had in my hotel. I read a bit. . .Then I put on shorts and ran in the dark along the esplanade. . . It was very good. Bath and bed with books lent me by Auden.
The relationship between England and Germany, and, implicitly, the threat of fascism-which Auden later saw as another of the themes of The Orators-was another topic of conversation between the two men.
31 Jan  Helensburgh
. . .The morning was raw and fogged. . .After breakfast I read the Observer and the Modern Scot.
Walked along the esplanade as far as the point. The fog was slowly receding. One could make out big ships lying in midstream off Greenock. Gulls and other seabirds cried. The fresh rank smell of seaweed refreshed me. I sat in a sort of public garden overlooking the bay, with the Highlands rising obscurely to the north and behind me. . .Then I walked back and wrote letters till lunch.
Wystan Auden came to lunch with me in the hotel. I noticed him more closely today. He looks a bit unhealthy, too pale and a bit pimpled. Finger nails bitten disgustingly and fingers stained yellow with cigarettes; teeth ditto. Grubby a little and careless in dress. But otherwise vigorous. His face is a bit boobyish, that of an ungrown up boy; I like its clownishness, he is a clown-poet.
Afterwards we walked for two hours along the hillside, tacking across stone walls, rocks, ridges and ploughed fields. I got dirty in my blue suit and hot. We talked animatedly. Below us lay the bay full of anchored ships, put in store; a melancholy sight. We talked first about the drama, the masque, the mummers' play: W. A. is doing things with an affinity to Luserke's method. Then I provoked deliberately a discussion on national temperament. I cited the instance of the Hermannsburg night route-march, the joy of the Germans, the unequalled indignation [of] the English. Auden flared up into a hot defence of the English. Said they were so much older than the G[erman]s (in which I agreed) and could not stand that sort of thing. I provoked further and asked how far this was due to repressions and how far should one deliberately compel the English to overcome their squeamishness. Here Auden said, probably rightly, no this hatred of soldierliness, romantic moving about[,] was fundamental to the modern English. Their group-instinct functioned differently. . .[Gardiner's ellipsis] Then I pushed on to the mess of England, and the disciples of casualness and politeness-corrosion. Auden defended the former and criticised the latter. I think I had him uneasy in my criticism of a people becoming more and more like the Irish [-] full of charm and talent but immersed in decay and disorganisation. I had him on the run; on a tricky point.
By this time however, we had reached a resplendent Hydro where to the wailings of an electric gramophone we drank tea and discussed literary topics. Here W. A. and I agreed. The writer would have to create a new function for himself in relation to the community in order to save himself amidst the welter of meaningless and misplaced literary production. The writer must write for aural effects and influence, not for the printed page. We discussed education in relation to this, and the danger of the people no longer having a living language but only jargon.
Back in a bus through the rain and encroaching night. Telling me another conundrum. Went to Auden's rooms. He read aloud more poems, played the piano, sang schlager [popular songs] and discussed at cross-purposes the use of old forms, i.e. the mass. I find Auden remarkably perspicacious and sound: but his intelligence lacks spiritual force and colour. He is too inventive and original I feel. But he will be a force and a useful one in England. He is in the main on the right tack. But I feel distrustful of him, tho' I like his humour and his intelligence.
We dined together at my hotel. Then he went off to put his boys to bed. I packed and caught a bus into Glasgow. . .
(Microfilm of Rolf Gardiner's diary, Rolf Gardiner Papers, Cambridge University Library, MS 9633. The diary itself remains in the possession of Gardiner's daughter and literary executrix, Mrs Rosalind Richards, to whom I am most grateful for allowing me to quote these extracts. I am also indebted to the Syndics of Cambridge University Library [and to Dr P. N. R. Zutshi and his staff in the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives in particular] for granting me permission to reproduce this material from the Rolf Gardiner Papers.)
Of the many issues and questions this new perspective on Auden at Larchfield raises, particularly interesting is Gardiner's linking of Auden's dramatic work with that of Luserke. Born in Berlin on 3 May 1880, Martin Luserke was a writer, dramatist, pioneer of educational reform and radical schooling. His most lasting achievement was the introduction of dramatic performance (Laienspiel, literally "amateur dramatics") into his work with schools and young people. Following the model of Shakespeare, Luserke developed a new form of "moving performance" incorporating the use of space and spectators, mostly taking shape according to the "workshop principle" through the collaboration of author and players. This form of theatre was not to be a "theatre of illusion" or an "artistic experience," nor an aesthetic "play" in Schiller's sense, but a "primal experience of the origins of human consciousness in the light of the new categorisation of conscious and unconscious elements in spiritual life." The discovery and realisation of the self through self-activation ("agitur ergo sum") was the guiding principle. Of course, the key question is whether Auden told or showed Gardiner that he was "doing things with an affinity to Luserke's method," or whether Gardiner's comment was simply his own assessment of Auden's writing based on his, Gardiner's, knowledge of "Luserke's method." Either way, the possible influence of Luserke's ideas and practice on the early Auden warrants further investigation. (Much of this information, and all the quotations, are taken from the entry on Martin Luserke in the Neue deutsche Biographie, the German equivalent of the DNB. I am most grateful to my colleague Francis Lamport for translating the entry for me and for the invaluable assistance of Colin Hawkins.)
Soon after his visit, Gardiner wrote a letter to Auden, enclosing a copy of John Hargrave's The Confession of the Kibbo Kift: A Declaration and General Exposition of the Work of the Kindred (1927). He described his gift elsewhere as "an astonishing book. . . It tilts mercilessly at all the muddledom and self-deception of the suburban idealists and faddists, somewhat after the manner of Wyndham Lewis's attacks on intellectual Bohemia. It breathes a certain rigorous sanity and impatience with anything but total solutions. But its lovelessness and lack of gaiety and warmth make it in the end impossible" (Rolf Gardiner, "D. H. Lawrence and Youth Movements of the 'Twenties.") John Gordon Hargrave (1894-1982) had founded his Kindred of the Kibbo Kift in 1920 when he broke away from Baden-Powell's Boy Scout Movement. The Kibbo Kift was organized in Clans and Tribes and combined a dedication to woodcraft, camping, bodily conditioning and sexual essentialism with a taste for outlandish costumes, Native-American-style names, the Social Credit theories of Major Douglas, pacifism and a full-blooded internationalism. It was never anything more than a marginal organisation, but its Advisory Council included the likes of Havelock Ellis, Julian Huxley, Rabindranath Tagore and H. G. Wells. By the time Auden read the Confession, the Kibbo Kift had turned into The Green Shirt Movement for Social Credit.
Gardiner had been a member of the Kibbo Kift between 1923 and 1925 and Hargrave's right-hand man. He had kept Lawrence fully informed of the Kibbo Kift's activities and sent him Hargrave's publications, but the novelist was not as impressed as Gardiner, no doubt, would have liked him to be. He wrote back: "I read the Kibbo Kift book with a good deal of interest. . . [Hargrave] is overweening, and he's cold. But for all that, on the whole he's right, and I respect him for it. . . If it weren't for his ambition and his lack of warmth, I'd go and kibbo kift along with him" (The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, vi, 267-68). Auden responded to the Confession less positively though in broadly similar terms:
Thank you very much for your letter. I ought to have written to you before about Kibbo Kift. Hargrave seems terribly lower middle-class, with that lack of humour which all half-baked culture-addicts have. And whenever he reaches a difficult point, instead of explaining what he means, he gives you blurb, which makes me suspicious. He realises that something is up with our civilisation. Who does not; he diagnoses what class of emotions are starved and distorted in our time but wishes to satisfy them at an infantile level. He's another of these damned childhood hounds. No, the book rather disgusted me.
I don't like making personal remarks by letter as such, out of their living context, [as they] are always a bit sententious and false. I enjoyed your visit immensely, though with my cold I was feeling very out of power, which may partly explain the skirmishing, but not of course entirely. I do feel you are a foreigner. I admire many things you do but I know I couldn't do them myself with sincerity. I somehow feel that I should enjoy your "cercle" [i.e., the community which Gardiner was building up around him at Gore Farm, Ashmore, Dorset] more than you would mine. I hope sometime to visit it if I may, but don't let's hurry things. Remember in England we live on small plots of land; and dawdle. Nothing worth much in personal relations take place in a rush, I think.
Once more thank you very much for your letter and your visit. I hope we shall meet again soon.
(Rolf Gardiner Papers, Cambridge University Library, MS D3/6/1 ("English Dances and Players" file). I am very grateful to the literary executor of the Auden estate, Professor Edward Mendelson, for granting me permission to publish this letter)
Six months later, on 19 August 1932, Gardiner wrote to Auden in the hope that he might review his passionately Lawrentian World Without End: British Politics and the Younger Generation in The Modern Scot. But this did not happen, presumably because Auden, having made "it a rule not to review any book which, whatever its faults, you don't basically like," could not face the task (Carpenter 114). World Without End is listed under "Books Received" in the Autumn number of the magazine (The Modern Scot, 3 No.3 [October 1932], 271).
Gardiner and Auden do not appear to have met "again soon" or remained in touch, possibly because as the 1930s wore on Gardiner became ever more deeply embroiled with contemporary German politics. His enthusiasm for the country and its people often made him seem like an apologist for Hitler's regime. In February 1934, for instance, the Observer referred to him as "the English neo-Nazi" and he responded by informing the newspaper that "National Socialism in Germany is in very many respects the life of the Bünde [youth associations] writ large, their spirit and forms amplified and translated into national terms. . .Admittedly National Socialism has evinced Fascist traits; but its root principles are not based on mass-suggestion and mass-subjection but on the religious experience of the communal unit. Anyone acquainted with the life of the German work-camps or of the finer contingents of the Storm Troops must realize that." (Quoted in Emile Delavenay and W. J. Keith, "Mr Rolf Gardiner, 'The English Neo-Nazi': An Exchange," D. H. Lawrence Review, 7, No.3 [Fall 1974], 291-4.) It is easy to see why this kind of remark could be misconstrued. However, while Gardiner was most definitely an appeaser, according to Patrick Wright the idea that he was a full-blown Nazi sympathiser, a Dorset fifth-columnist and future "Gauleiter of Wessex," was a "canard"-though it is true that Gardiner was broadly sympathetic toward a number of English right-wing rural revivalist movements in the 1930s, some of which were avowedly anti-Semitic. (Patrick Wright, The Village that Died for England, 156-8, 176-202).
Auden and Rolf Gardiner met on at least one more occasion. In a letter to me of 26 February 1999, Mrs. Rosalind Richards, Gardiner's daughter, recalls: "When my first cousin Martin Bernal [the son of Margaret Gardiner and J.D. Bernal] was married in Cambridge well over thirty years ago, Auden and Grandpa (Alan Gardiner) travelled from Oxford by taxi and Rolf was at the wedding-perhaps the last encounter?"
David Bradshaw is Hawthornden Fellow and Tutor in English at Worcester College, Oxford. Most recently he has edited Aldous Huxley's Now More Than Ever (University of Texas Press, 2000).
"Climbing to Song," an entertaining evening combining a biographical lecture on Auden and setting of his poetry to music, was an exciting exploration of the enormous impact that music had on Auden's life. The talk on the sixth of May was given by the friend and biographer of Auden, Charles Osborne. His lively account of Auden's collaboration with some of the 20th century's great composers, notably Hans Werner Henze, Lennox Berkeley, Igor Stravinsky and Benjamin Britten, was informative, amusing and often touching. It was particularly appropriate that the event took place in the recently built Auden theatre at Gresham's School, Holt, where Auden had been a pupil. Indeed, in striking coincidence, both Benjamin Britten and Lennox Berkeley were also Greshamians.
A wide variety of Auden's poetry was beautifully, if sometimes less than seriously, sung by three very talented musicians from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. The first half of the programme concentrated on Auden's collaboration with Britten and Berkeley. The second half continued to "fill our isles with sounds and sweet airs" with an extract from The Rake's Progress, and the combination of Auden's words and Stravinsky's music provided the high point of the evening. Arrangements of "Stop all the Clocks," "The Telephone Song" and "Johnny" provided witty and amusing fireworks at the end.
Ros Steele is a Sixth-form student at Gresham's School.
W. H. Auden: Towards a Postmodern Poetics, by Rainer Emig. London: Macmillan Press Ltd., and New York: St. Martin's Press Inc., 2000. 237pp.
In W. H. Auden: Towards a Postmodern Poetics Rainer Emig sets out to offer a reading of Auden's poetry independent of the poet's background and biography. He tells us early in his first chapter that he will place Auden neither in historical nor biographical contexts and will refrain from referring to Auden's voluminous prose work. If Emig himself does at times rely on history and biography, and if an occasional reference to Auden's prose writings would in fact have strengthened and broadened Emig's argument, his careful attention to textual matters nonetheless allows him to make interesting observations about how language and the idea of language function in Auden's poetry and plays. Emig is a good reader and a lucid explicator, and this book's great strength is its careful attention to individual works.
One of the consequences of providing a largely textual reading is that Auden's mid-career changes in style and thematics, although addressed in Emig's seventh chapter, are not, as they tend to be in much Auden criticism, of primary concern to this book. Instead Emig investigates the tenuous relationship, throughout the whole of Auden's career, between what Emig calls "language" and "reality," and he examines the ambiguous position that Auden as poet assumes as mediator between the two. The complexities and ambiguities of this relationship, between words and the world, are most pronounced in Auden's early pre-1940 material, and Emig is strongest and most original in his treatment of this work, to which, happily, the book devotes most of its attention.
Most criticism of Auden's early poetry and drama has emphasized the difficulty of communication between people; Emig sees the difficulty instead as arising from a gap between the signifier and the signified. For Emig, Auden's early work reveals a Saussurean "arbitrariness of the sign," and finally an unbridgeable chasm between language and reality. Emig's argument is particularly illuminating on Auden's riddle-like poems such as "The Question," a poem which, Emig argues, is built around the idea that language in effect doesn't even try to point to the world, but instead asserts its own autonomous world of signs. And in the early chapters of the book, Emig's careful attention to the ways language works on a technical level-the absence of articles, Auden's use of lists, his inverted syntax, etc.-is thoughtful and perceptive.
Emig's readings of Auden's later work are also attentive, if less original. In Auden's later work, Emig shows us, poetic openness comes to circle around metaphysical and ethical questions. Emig draws our attention to the way Auden's later poetry insists upon multiple perspectives and resists easy answers. Always aware of the distinct qualities of things and individuals, Auden's later work assumes a subtle but stringent moral perspective on the world. Through the course of the book, then, Emig shows Auden moving from a radical distancing between language and the world, in which his "verbal acrobatics are . . . an assault on the concept of a firm reality underneath it" (19), to "an acceptance and appreciation of the here and now [that] goes hand in hand with an interest in objective reality" (175) while at the same time always attempting to reach some transcendence beyond the actual. This movement from one attitude toward the world, language and poetry to another, very different one, is a new and useful take on the arc of Auden's overall career.
Interestingly, Emig wants both of these very different positions, the early "assault" on the idea of a firm reality, and the later "acceptance," to signal Auden's "postmodernity." Postmodernism, as Emig himself admits early in the book, is a nebulous term, but his book would be stronger if it devoted more critical attention to the concept. For the most part, Emig uses the word "postmodernism" to signal poetic openness, a rejection of totalities and easy connections. This rejection is effected on a linguistic level in Auden's early career, or on a metaphysical and ethical level in his later. But these different rejections of closure seem to me to be radically different and not easily assimilated under one such admittedly ambiguous word. Similarly, at various points in the book, Auden's themes and linguistic strategies are said to resemble the ideas of such disparate "postmodern" thinkers as Saussure, Foucauld, Baudrillard, Barthes, Adorno, Deleuze and Lyotard. In clarifying a particular technique that Auden uses or the complexities of Auden's position in a particular poem, Emig's references to, and apt quotations from, one of these thinkers can at times be helpful; but it's not clear how the resemblance is supposed to have come about - since usually it is not a matter of direct influence, are we to infer that certain ideas were simply in the air? Nor is it clear how all of these positions fit together in one poet or one picture of postmodernism.
Emig's treatment of modernism is also problematic. If postmodernism for Emig is roughly to be understood as an embrace of "openness," then by contrast modernism is to be understood as a poetics of closure, totalities and symbolism. Eliot, Pound, and to a lesser extent Yeats become Emig's straw men. This account of modernism seems too easy and simplistic. At the same time, it fails to take into consideration much of the critical work that has been done on modernism; for example, Marjorie Perloff has argued that Eliot and Pound are in fact part of two very different traditions. It seems strange that Emig doesn't mention her work (if only to disagree with it) when he so thoroughly aligns Eliot and Pound, especially since Perloff's account of Pound's rejection of symbolism resembles Emig's account of Auden's rejection of symbolism.
Despite my reservations about some of Emig's larger theoretical claims, it is nevertheless welcome to see a book that shows Auden, the major poet of his time, not as fighting a rearguard action or even as moving backwards, but rather as moving forward and participating fully in the major currents of his time. It would have been interesting if Emig had placed Auden in relation not only to theorists but also to other "postmodern" poets, for whom, presumably, Auden was an important influence. But then, Emig is such an attentive and appreciative close reader of Auden, it would be a shame for his focus to have shifted too much from the true subject of his study.
NADIA HERMAN COLBURN
Society members with access to the Internet can find a frequently updated list of forthcoming events and books on the Society's web site, audensociety.org. The site receives an average of more than two hundred visitors each day, and visits have been recorded from more than a hundred countries and territories.
Oxford Poetry, of which Auden was editor in 1926-27, celebrates its 90th birthday with an issue largely devoted to unpublished work by Auden, Stephen Spender, and Louis MacNeice. The Winter 2000 number (Volume XI number 1) includes the text of Auden's long draft of "The Sphinx" with an introductory essay by John Fuller. A chapter of Stephen Spender's unpublished 1928 novel Instead of Death includes a fictional portrait of Auden. Further information may be found at the magazine's web site, www.oxfordpoetry.co.uk, or by mail from Oxford Poetry, Magdalen College, Oxford OX1 4AU.
A sequence of poems written in 1931, "Eight Poems on a Set Subject," was published for the first time in Multilingua, volume 18, no. 2-3 (1999). (This issue is a Festschrift for Paul B. Taylor, who worked with Auden on the translation of The Elder Edda.) After sending the sequence to Isherwood, Auden published four of the poems as separate lyrics; the remaining four are published here for the first time. The manuscript of the sequence was in Christopher Isherwood's collection, which was recently sold to the Huntington Library in Pasadena.
A group of fourteen old Downians who had participated in the revue written and directed by Auden in 1934 gathered for a five-hour reconstruction of the original text organized by Daniel Varholy at Magdalen College, Oxford, on 30 March 2000. The participants were able to recall songs and stanzas omitted from the tentative reconstruction in the 1988 edition of Auden's Plays, and Daniel Varholy plans to publish the newly recovered texts.
A two-hour walk conducted by the writer and lecturer Linda Hart, from the Downs School, Colwall, along the Malvern Ridge, with poems and biography en route, will take place on Saturday, 8 July 2000, from 9 a.m. to 12.45 p.m. Booking (£5) through the Ledbury Poetry Festival, Town Council Offices, Church Street, Ledbury, Herefordshire HR8 1DH; or by telephone, 01531 634 156; or by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tell Me the Truth About Love, a BBC Television film about Auden, was broadcast as part of the ArtZone series on BBC2, Sunday, 26 March 2000, at 8 pm GMT. The program included home-movie footage of Auden and Isherwood, and interviews with Katherine Bucknell, Michael Yates, David Luke, Thekla Clark, and others.
In spring of 2000 Albany Records will issue a CD of Peter Dickinson's music under the title Songcycles (Troy 365). This contains two of Dickinson's Auden cycles with piano, Four W. H. Auden Songs (1956) (which includes the songs "Look, stranger," "Eyes look into the well," "Carry her over the water," and "What's in your mind") and Three Comic Songs (1960) (which includes "My second thoughts," "Happy Ending," "Over the heather") and the single song, "Let the florid music praise" (1960).
W. H. Auden: A Legacy, a collection of twenty-nine new essays about Auden's life and work, edited by David Garrett Izzo, will be published by Locust Hill Press in 2001. David Garrett Izzo's Aldous Huxley and W. H. Auden: On Language, was published by Locust Hill in 1998, and his Christopher Isherwood, His Era, His Gang, and the Legacy of the Truly Strong Man will be published by the University of South Carolina Press in 2001.
A paperback edition of John Fuller's W. H. Auden: A Commentary will be published in 2000 by Princeton University Press. Paperback editions of Edward Mendelson's Early Auden and Later Auden have been published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; the texts include minor corrections.
We regret the misunderstanding that led us to publish in the previous number of the Newsletter a note that referred to Emma Kann. Ms. Kann had not intended this note for publication.
The cost of producing the Newsletter has increased considerably, and the Society has been lax in asking for subscription renewals. We should be grateful for renewals from members who have not sent payments for more than a year.
Annual subscriptions are as follows:
Individual members £6 $10 (students half-price)
Institutions £12 $20
Submissions to the Newsletter may be sent to the editor: Nadia Herman Colburn, Department of English, Columbia University, Mail Code 4927, New York NY 10027, or by e-mail to [address revemoved].
New members of the Society (and members wishing to renew) should send checks (cheques) payable to "The W. H. Auden Society" to Katherine Bucknell, [address removed].Receipts on request.
All writings by W. H. Auden in this number are copyright 2000 by the Estate of W. H. Auden.
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