Years ago I purchased a second-hand paperback copy of Forewords and Afterwords, Edward Mendelson's excellent selection from Auden's prose, and noticed that its previous owner had signed his name inside the cover. This person happens to be a fairly prominent American poet and the editor of a well-known poetry journal; owning his copy gave me such a feeling of conspiratorial pleasure that I neglected to ask myself why he had unloaded it. Some time later I was reading Auden's article, included in the book, on Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, when I noticed that the previous owner had marked a particular passage in the following paragraph:
Yet, for all its harrowing descriptions of squalor, crime, injustice and suffering, the final impression of Mayhew's great book is not depressing. From his many transcripts of conversations it is clear that Mayhew was that rare creature, a natural democrat; his first thought, that is to say, was never `This is an unfortunate wretch whom it is my duty, if possible, to help' but always `This is a fellow human being whom it is fun to talk to.' The reader's final impression of the London poor is not of their misery but of their self-respect, courage and gaiety in conditions under which it seems incredible that such virtues could survive.
The previous owner had circled the word `fun' and drawn a line to the lower margin, where he had written, `The essential Auden flaw.' To the left of the paragraph's final sentence he scrawled, `Immediately covered over.'
What could the man have been thinking as he made these notes? In what context could `fun' be so significant a flaw? How ironic, I thought, that Auden, who had purged his own canon of several beautiful poems because he thought them insufficiently truthful, should now be condemned for his sense of humor. Clearly the American poet and editor who wrote these notes did so out of a perhaps momentary Puritanism, a misguided sobriety dictating that serious subjects like poverty can only be treated seriously. As D. H. Lawrence wrote in Etruscan Places, `To the Puritan all things are impure...,' and one can imagine the marginalizing critic's anger as he took up his pen. Auden, whose generosity to people like Dorothy Day is well known, stands accused of `covering over' the facts of poverty's misery when he points out that it might be `fun' to converse with a person who happens to be poor. My marginalizer apparently believed that the true test of sincerity was a frown, or perhaps a Munchian scream. Taken further, his disapproval explains a lot about post-war American poetry, which at times has elevated the sincere free verse lyric of personal experience over most forms of wit or comedy. The poet's righteousness becomes the subject of poetry, not the suffering world. No wonder Auden is under-appreciated in the United States, where you still meet critics who consider him facile or too cold, as if his delight in traditional forms arose from an indifference to politics.
But what has Auden actually said in his Mayhew piece? He praises Mayhew for treating his subjects as individual human beings, rather than statistics or symbols of social injustice, and he notes that individuals have individual reactions to their own circumstances, whatever those might be. Auden's playful taxonomies (such as his Alices and Mabels) are set aside, as are the frustrations with democracy he sometimes displays (e.g. in his preface to Henry James' The American Scene); he praises Mayhew for treating the poor as people rather than as types. On the other hand, my marginalizer's view of democracy seems to have been a humorless one, and his dismissal of Auden's article may have led him to unload the book I now possess.
I'm not sure what I can conclude from this small anecdote, except that Auden, who called poetry `a game of knowledge,' never failed to see the difference between solutions that are verbal and those that are actually devised in life. Life is always messier than our accounts of it; when we write we order the world, as in a game. Children know that even the worst human experiences, like war, present opportunities for play without actually removing life's dangers. The Puritan who would banish play apparently fears its secular pleasures. If we want to know what Auden understood about suffering, his playful poems will instruct us-and I don't just mean `Musée des Beaux Arts,' but also the painful lines of Joseph in For the Time Being or the evocations of despair in `The Shield of Achilles' or any number of other works. As Joseph Brodsky has observed, Auden's irony, `this light touch, is the mark of a most profound despair....'
David Mason's book of poems, The Buried Houses, is published by Story Line Press.
The writer and translator James Stern died on 22 November 1993 at his home, Hatch Manor, a Tudor house half-sunk in a grassy bank on the floor of Wiltshire's placid Nadder Valley. Mr Stern was born in rural Ireland in 1904 and he settled in rural England in 1961, arriving there with his German-born wife Tania Stern by way of an exile's wanderings through Southern Rhodesia, Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Honolulu, Manhattan, Amenia, Darmstadt, and Fire Island. A short, slender, neatly-dressed man with a head shaped like a golf putter, James Stern often flashed a wide and ironical grin. At the time of his death he was 88. Mrs Stern, 90 this year, survives him.
James Stern once enjoyed what one large biographical dictionary describes as a `fabulous reputation' as a writer. Part of it can be attributed directly to Auden and Isherwood's celebration of Stern during the late 30s. At the start of the decade they had exalted Edward Upward's self-abnegating Marxist commitment; at its end, as they sought to escape from the nets of Popular Front politics, their imaginations seized on the unsystematic, anti-political Stern as an ideal. They called him `the best of the younger story writers' and praised, perhaps extravagantly, his fastidiousness, his disaffiliation, his sceptical eye. Even after knowing them for 30 years, Stephen Spender wrote that James and Tania Stern still seemed like `legends recounted by Auden and Isherwood.'
One could almost imagine that these tributes froze something in Upward and Stern. Or, conversely, that the qualities which made both men seem exemplary in the 30s, the contrasting extremes of engagement and independence, were too directly linked with the historical moment to allow either of them to develop easily once circumstances had changed. Whatever the case, both underwent forms of literary seizure. Upward endured a gigantic, generation-long writer's block, while Stern, though productive for a while as a translator and reviewer, wrote little fiction in the second half of his life. His `name' has now dwindled to such an extent that he is absent from Valentine Cunningham's vast typology, British Writers of the Thirties, as he is from the other mainstream studies of the period by Samuel Hynes and Bernard Bergonzi. James Stern and the equally-remarkable Tania Stern tend now to be invoked mainly in the context of other artists' biographies-a secondary fame sustained by the spell of empathy and affection which this hospitable couple cast over a wide circle of distinguished friends that included Patrick White, Malcolm Lowry, James Joyce, Walker Evans, Alexander Calder, Kay Boyle, Samuel Beckett, Djuna Barnes, and, of course, Auden. So close, so receptive to each other were James Stern and Auden, that Brian Howard, who knew them both, once exclaimed: `the one man who might just persuade Wystan to alter one word in a poem, my dear, is Jimmy Stern.'
But who was this influential man who spent such a long stretch of later life in a historical and geographical backwater? Stern had a complicated beginning. He was born into a world of bespoke tailoring and family silver in County Meath in 1904, the eldest son of a punctilious cavalry officer in the British Army (and a member of a family of rich Anglo-German Jewish bankers) and a beautiful but implacably fierce Protestant mother who soon made it clear that she preferred horses to children. (Family legend asserts that Stern's `biological' great grandfather on his mother's side was the Duke of Wellington.) Because of his parents' harshness and emotional reserve, James Stern remembered his childhood as a profoundly miserable time, occasionally alleviated by escapes into the vivid, myth-filled world of the Irish peasants who lived around his family home. But that source of relief soon disappeared as well; Stern's melancholy deepened in adolescence when the Irish Civil War broke out. He wrote once that: `Memories of this war have had, I believe, a lasting effect on my life' and he recalled watching the family chauffeur, covered in blood, stagger back into the yard of their country house after he had been ambushed by the IRA.
James Stern was educated in England for a secure place in the privileged, uncreative world which he was to spend most of his early life trying to evade. He went first to Wixenford, then, unhappily, to Eton, where he passed his time in morose bouts of golfing, gambling, and petty larceny. Finally he spent an unsuccessful year at Sandhurst. His disappointed family packed him off to Southern Rhodesia, where for a while he helped run a cattle farm and `acquired a hatred of colonialism and racial intolerance.' But Stern fell seriously ill and a doctor ordered him home to England. At his parents' insistence, he became a clerk in his father's family bank, Stern Brothers, first in London and later in Frankfurt and Berlin. Stern hated his job but it helped him to know himself better. `That I ever published a page of prose,' he wrote, `was due primarily to the dread prospect of spending the rest of my days in a bank.' Through Alan Pryce-Jones, he got a job on J. C. Squire's highly-respectable London Mercury and, although intimidated by visiting literary lions like Chesterton and Belloc, he was eventually bullied by Squire into beginning a story about a veldt fire. When Squire published the sketch, `The Cloud,' Stern was so exhilarated that he rushed off to Paris, and, in the hotel room where Oscar Wilde had died, he spent the next year or so writing what became his first book of stories, The Heartless Land. It was published in London in 1932.
All eight of the book's narratives are set in Southern Rhodesia. Though the terrain's sun-baked vastness and its indifference to human effort are evoked with Lawrentian richness, Stern's treatment of the European colonizers is awkward, alternating between would-be mordant satire and unappeasable polemic. Lust and anger are the two dominant emotional states. Despite these weaknesses, the stories constitute an important historical stage in the literary representation of colonialism in Southern Africa, and one, `The Force,' must rank as a very early treatment of inter-racial desire. But the book's interest is far from just documentary: the relations between settlers and natives, for instance, also suggest a interpretation structured in terms of Stern's memories of his childhood and the situation of the Protestant gentry in Ireland.
In Paris during the 1930s, with The Heartless Land in print, Stern got to know many important modernist writers, including Malcolm Lowry with whom he embarked on a series of 20- and 30-hour boozy rambles through the streets of the French capital. (Lowry was later the subject of one of the best of Stern's several shrewd and affectionate character sketches.) But he continued to suffer from the effects of the neuroses he had developed in childhood, which included phobias about the state of his hair and teeth, and a loathing of money. Stern never travelled without a battery of salts and medicines in his luggage, and he would occasionally amuse new acquaintances by pulling out a little box of `panic pills,' his constant companions. He soon realized that literature and literary friendships alone could never cure him of his melancholy and loneliness. In 1934, though, he met Tania Kurella, the daughter of a prominent Berlin physician. She taught a special course of gymnastic exercises and physical self-cultivation. Having been forced to leave Germany in 1933, she was now living in Paris. Isherwood described as `one of the most unaffected, straightforward, sensible, and warmhearted women [he] had ever encountered. She was also one of the most beautiful.' Towards the end of his life Stern wrote simply that it was Tania Kurella, `but for whom I should long ago have perished.'
When they married in 1935 in London, Tania Kurella was given away by Ernst Freud, whom she had known since childhood. (The Sterns later were to translate together an important selection of Sigmund Freud's letters.) Then the couple returned to their tiny Parisian flat with its beautiful view across the Seine. Tania Stern continued with her exercise classes while James Stern wrote and translated. It was in the city, in 1937, that they met Auden. Tentative, easily distracted, costive as a writer, Stern was awestruck by Auden's intensity and focus. While the others at the café table gossiped and drank, Auden sat reading a book.
Despite Stern's personal difficulties, and the worsening political situation, by which he was appalled, the following year he published a second book of stories, Something Wrong. This was his best collection, more restrained and oblique, more charitably imaginative, and much more various in its subject matter than The Heartless Land. The stories, which deal mainly with tensions and misunderstandings between parents and children, take place in Germany, England, the South Seas, and Ireland. With a wealth of visual and linguistic detail they evoke the kind of humane, undogmatic perception of a world that Stern's fellow Anglo-Irishman Louis MacNeice called `incorrigibly plural.'
But in retrospect, Something Wrong, this clear advance, looks like the culmination of Stern's main creative effort; both the book and Stern's literary impulse as a whole were to be ironic casualties of a war which he had decided to leave Europe to avoid. But this could hardly have been clear at the time. Auden reviewed Something Wrong very favourably in the Birmingham Town Crier in the autumn of 1938. It was a piece that Stern never saw during their many years of friendship. When Edward Mendelson sent Stern a copy of the piece shortly after Auden's death, Stern told Humphrey Carpenter that he had been devastated: `I nearly wept: I had never thanked him! The book also had a sad history: appearing during the Munich crisis, the bulk of the edition was destroyed in the Blitz!'
In 1939 the Sterns emigrated to New York, where they were to spend much of their time on and off for the next two decades. James Stern worked at Time and was soon reviewing regularly for the New Republic and the New York Times, and his wife gave classes-her pupils included, for a few months, Auden and Kallman, whom she made stretch, twist, and balance barefoot on upturned bottles. Predictably Auden did not last long, but the friendship was firmly established: the Sterns' early years in the United States were the time of their greatest intimacy with Auden. In 1941 James Stern collaborated with him on a radio version of Lawrence's The Rocking Horse Winner, and for a time during 1942 Tania Stern was Auden's closest and most trusted friend. Throughout the most difficult period of his relationship with Chester Kallman, Auden drew inspiration and strength from the success of the Sterns' marriage. (In 1944 he dedicated The Sea and the Mirror to them.) All three shared a European background, a love of the German language, and many of them same liberal assumptions. In addition, the Sterns, who were childless, offered Auden an atmosphere of familial warmth and tolerant acceptance, which he valued very highly.
In the spring of 1945, Auden told James Stern that he had been recruited for the newly-formed United States Strategic Bombing Survey. Stern asked whether he too could apply. Auden said Yes, and Stern was soon accepted into the unit. Before they left for Germany, they decided they would write a book about their experiences there and they accepted an advance from Harcourt, Brace. Despite the contract, Auden never showed any inclination to begin work on the volume (nor even much desire to talk about his experiences in Germany in detail-`I'm near crying sometimes' he wrote in a letter to Tania Stern and he called the German civilians `sad beyond belief'). So at his agent's prompting Stern wrote the book, The Hidden Damage, alone. It was published in the US to rather tepid reviews in 1947, and only appeared in the UK in 1990.
The Hidden Damage is a long, rather rambling text, punctuated by a series of sharp vignettes, especially those of Stern's parents and some early acquaintances that he visited on his way over to Germany, as well as those of the parents of a German student who had been beheaded for high treason. Its underlying subject is the way that the debased and devastated German psyche struggles to comes to terms with what has happened and to work its way back to health. The theme is one in which Stern must have heard obvious echoes of his own life story. But this ragged, semi-documentary book (so much larger than anything Stern had written before), though often finely-observed, seems to mark a near-definitive triumph of his empathy over his powers of shaping, an enervating reliance on fact and anecdote over deeper levels of invention. A later collection of stories, The Man Who Was Loved (1952), contained much reprinted material alongside some new work. (In his later years, Stern translated, often in collaboration with his wife, works by Freud, Kafka, Hofmannsthal, Brecht, and others. In 1966, recommended by V. S. Pritchett, he was awarded the first Arts Council grant for the short story, and a selected Stories of James Stern was published in 1968.)
As Stern wrestled with his commitment to fiction, he seems to have become reconciled with much that had been painful in his sense of himself and his origins. During the middle-forties, the Sterns and Auden shared ownership of a tar-paper shack on Fire Island, called Bective Poplars. It was christened by fusing the name of Auden's grandmother's house with Stern's childhood home at Bective. The redeployment of a word from James Stern's miserable infancy signalled a half-acknowledged readiness to return home. He and Mrs Stern started to make visits back to England, then spent an experimental two years there in the early fifties, and went back to the South of England for good in the middle of the decade.
Stern felt that his family was `a selfish, self-centred lot, myself included,' and during early life he was often fully absorbed by his own creative and psychological struggles: Isherwood dryly described him shut up alone in his room for days on end, `hating his father.' Stern himself wrote in the sketch of Auden that he published in Stephen Spender's Tribute (1974), that he had valued Auden's friendship because Auden had been both `imaginatively indulgent of one's weaknesses' and aware of the need to respect the solitude and privacy of even close friends and `persons we love.'
Yet, inevitably, in the last quarter of his life, as a stream of literary researchers (like myself), whom Stern liked to call `brain pickers,' invaded his peace and solitude, he and Tania Stern seemed to be genial, welcoming, and enthusiastic-painful as it must have sometimes been for him to be asked over and over about his friends' works and rarely about his own. Actually, in my experience James Stern often said relatively little during these sessions. Perched on a sofa, Mrs Stern would do most of the explaining, while James Stern sat back, content to supply the occasional corrective touch to the tiller as her narrative sped along. Once, when she paused and asked him to continue for her, he said (with a faintly cranky smile), `No, you're the talker, I'm the writer,' and returned his gaze to the lacy patterns of froth in a glass of Guinness. But it seemed that on the whole both he and his wife enjoyed sharing their memories of Auden with me. I feel sure they did so with others too. They were, amongst other things, enthusiastic early supporters and founding members of the W. H. Auden Society.
The relative obscurity of the second half of James Stern's life raises obvious questions about the relation between fulfillment in life and literature, about the dynamics of a `successful' career. Stern's body of work is small, his reputation is now at a low point, his story of exile from a affluent Edwardian background has perhaps only a period appeal. But what is success? What is failure? How much good work does it take for a writer to survive? What is the cost of surviving? Even as, from early middle-age, Stern began to struggle to complete stories, he delighted a small private circle of readers with his prolific but orderly correspondence. Auden once admiringly called him `almost the only surviving letter-writer' and promised Stern: `If I survive you, I am going to edit your letters (profusely illustrated by photos and maps...)'.
Auden, of course, did not survive him. At the end of his life, appalled by an urbanized world of `lasers, electric brains, | do-it-yourself sex manuals, | bugged phones, sophisticated | weapon-systems and sick jokes,' he once confessed to someone he met on a transatlantic flight that, `Unless I can flee to the depths of the country and never open a newspaper, my imagination may very well take on a demonic cast and I shall ever feel that the physical world is utterly profane and shall be haunted by images of physical disgust.' Away from Kirchstetten, he found one such refuge at Hatch Manor, where he spent a final foggy, drunken Christmas in 1972 with the Sterns and Sonia Orwell. It was the first time he had spent the holiday in England since 1937; his visit is elegized in the sombre alliterative reverberations of one of his last poems, `Thank You, Fog.'
Perhaps the security and calm of the Sterns' home-life made Auden newly aware of the gains and losses involved in his own creative but lonely existence, of what Lowells describes as `the corpse of the insect embalmed in honey.' In spite of the evidence in the poem Auden wrote for them afterwards, the Sterns both felt that he was deeply miserable during his stay, and Mrs Stern remembered that one day she came into her sitting-room to find Auden slowly counting up the number of his books on the shelves. She was shocked because she had never before seen him display any interest in the quantity of writer's work (whether his own or someone else's), only in its quality.
James Stern, a man of wide experience who after a bad start surely found a real measure of happiness in life, will be remembered affectionately by those who knew him. Will his work last? It should. Will his reputation survive? Perhaps. As Auden wrote in one of his gentlest and wisest debunkings of his own authority as a poet: `If I could tell you I would let you know.'
(Auden's letters to the Sterns, meticulously preserved by their recipients, are now in the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. A selection, together with an introduction exploring Stern's life and work as well as his and his wife's friendship with Auden, will be printed in OUP's forthcoming Auden Studies, volume 3: `In Solitude, for Company': W. H. Auden After 1940: Unpublished Prose and Recent Criticism.)
The Newsletter also notes the death on 8 April 1994 in Leverküsen, Germany, of the historian and essayist Golo Mann, Thomas Mann's second son, Auden's brother-in-law, and a lodger at the famous Middagh Street menagerie in Brooklyn from March-July 1941. He was 85.
Golo Mann was born in Munich in 1909 and fled from Germany with his family in 1933. Auden first met him at Küsnacht in 1935, and later pointedly remarked to him: `If the father is a novelist, the relationship is bound to be embarrassing, because he cannot help seeing the son as a character out of his novels.' Golo Mann's best-known work was German History in the 19th and 20th Century (1958).
The project, mentioned in Newsletter 10-11, of laying a memorial stone to Auden in Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, was successfully completed in September last year. This was not an official act of Auden's old college, but a private enterprise funded entirely by a number of the poet's friends and admirers. Permission for the stone was kindly given, and its details supervised, by the Dean and Chapter of the cathedral. For anomalous historical reasons, the Dean of Christ Church (at present the Very Revd. John Drury) is also the head of the college, and Oxford Cathedral, one of the smallest in England, doubles as college chapel. Auden was a practicing Christian of the conservative Anglican persuasion, strongly opposed to liturgical reform and tolerating only the language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Thus, although attendance at cathedral services was an essential aspect of his devotion to the college, expressed when he revisited Oxford in his later years, the only service he would go to was the 8 a.m. Holy Communion on Sundays in the Military Chapel, which by custom was and always is said in the old 1662 form. (The only exception was that he once or twice stood in as lay preacher at the more evangelical College Evensong for undergraduates which had been started in the 1960s by the then college Chaplain, John Gilling.)
Wystan was able to take regular advantage of this liturgical facility offered by Christ Church during his tenure of the chair of Poetry (1956-1960), which for him involved residence in college during the summer terms; later opportunities were his frequent stopovers in Oxford as he annually commuted between New York and Kirchstetten. His participation in the 8 o'clock service was strictly practical: arriving dead-punctually, and always using the same seat near the front of the chapel and on the right, he would stay for the first 20 minutes or so until the time came for him to make his communion (an observance from which, to his regret, he felt himself debarred in the local Catholic church in Kirchstetten). He would then think nothing of leaving immediately, and could be seen lumbering out of the Cathedral in his carpet slippers to buy the Sunday paper. In conformity with this established Auden lore of the place, the memorial tablet has been embedded in the floor of the Military Chapel a few feet in front of the seat which he used. It is about 23 inches square, in a dark blue-grey Lias limestone, designed and carved by a local craftsman, Martin Jennings. The lettering is V-cut in a classical style and coloured off-white. The stone is placed diagonally like the others nearby, and the disposition of the words reflects the resulting diamond shape. Between the dates of Auden's birth and death, it reads: `in memory | of the poet | WYSTAN | HUGH AUDEN | who worshipped here | Bless what there is | for being'. The one-line quotation is from a poem about the five senses called Precious Five (1950), the closing lines of which are its immediate context:
That singular command
I do not understand,
Bless what there is for being,
Which has to be obeyed, for
What else am I made for,
Agreeing or disagreeing?
The italicized words (the italics are Auden's) express not only his religious feeling but also his view of the essential function of poetry, formulated for example in the closing words of his inaugural lecture as Professor of Poetry: `There is only one thing that all poetry must do; it must praise all it can for being and for happening'.
The service associated with the laying of the stone took place a week or so before the twentieth anniversary of Auden's death in 1973. It was not an elaborate dedicated commemorative ceremony, but simply the usual brief Communion service which he liked, slightly but movingly adapted for the occasion. There was an explanatory service-card, and some prayers and thanksgivings for Wystan and for poets and artists in general were added by the celebrant. The latter, specially invited by the Dean, was very appropriately Peter Walker, the retired Bishop of Ely, who was living in Christ Church as Bishop of Dorchester during Wystan's last year here and formed a close friendship with him. The normal small congregation of local 1662 devotees was on this Sunday about doubled by a significant influx of the poet's friends, relations, and admirers who despite the early hour had come from London and further afield; these included many of the contributors whose generosity had made the whole occasion possible. Among them had been Lincoln Kirstein, Faber and Faber, Valerie Eliot, Wystan's surviving sister-in-law Sheila Auden, his nieces Rita and Anita and his nephew Giles, as well as Stephen Spender, John Whitehead, Bishop Peter Walker, and a number of others. After the service about 20 visitors were delightfully entertained to breakfast at the Deanery; some of them shown round the 16th-century brewhouse cottage in which Wystan, by his special request, lived during his last two Oxford terms, and which the local telephone directory now lists as `Auden Cottage.' It is a small, very atmospheric, strangely-shaped dwelling with snug stone walls, well inside the enclosure of Christ Church and a few convenient steps from the Senior Common Room: inside and yet outside, as he wished to be.
David Luke's new translation of Faust Part Two has recently been published by OUP.
This interview with the poet Richard Wilbur took place at Macon College, Macon, Georgia, 13 October 1993. In it he talked with Lorraine Pearsall, a faculty member in the Division of Humanities, about W. H. Auden.
Pearsall: I notice that you had written a poem entitled `For W. H. Auden' which was occasioned by his death. It started me thinking about your own views of Auden-why you wrote the poem in particular, and, more generally, what, if any, influences he had on your own work. Rather than my asking you specific questions, I'd like first to have you talk a little about your feelings about Auden and if he did, in any way, influence you.
Wilbur: Well, I guess he did. I can think of one or two poems of mine that other people have thought suggested Auden. I remember, for example, reading my poem `The Undead' to Theodore Roethke, and he said, `Well, you're sounding a little like Wystan there toward the end,' but he didn't suggest that it was so like Wystan that I destroy it. (Laughs.) By the way, I never knew Auden well enough to call him Wystan.... Roethke did, however. I met Auden just a couple of times and did not know him well. I remember meeting him once when I was editing a series of Laurel Paperbacks on poetry; that is, editions of Milton and Spenser and so on, and I got in touch with him and asked him if he would be willing to do a volume on Hardy. He agreed to that, and we had lunch.
Pearsall: This was in New York?
Wilbur: Yes. We had lunch to talk about that, and indeed to talk about the whole series. I went through a great long list of all the English poets and to each name he said, `Oh, yes, inevitably do him,' or, `No, he's a bore,' and that kind of thing. He had very strong opinions on everybody. As it happened, for copyright reasons we couldn't do the Hardy volume. And so we had to pay him for his initial trouble because he had already gotten going on it. But happily he was willing to take on another assignment and he did a marvelous anthology of minor English nineteenth-century verse, including some fine things which one very seldom sees. I think the only other time I ever had any conversation with him was at Robert Frost's eightieth or eighty-fifth birthday party in New York. It was a small dinner, the one at which Lionel Trilling gave a controversial speech about Frost, actually a very good speech, but one which some of Frost's adherents did not take in good part. Just before it Auden had ordered a martini and I had ordered a martini, and we talked about martinis, and we discussed the fact that if you are devoted to martinis, it's very hard to get a good one away from home. I think that was the essence of our deep conversation, but it was heartfelt.
I don't know... I think I have always felt that Auden was a poet of the greatest technical cleverness, of an admirable dexterity from the very beginning of his work, and I've enjoyed that in him. But also the intellectual scope of his work, and his, as it were, taking responsibility for the culture has always impressed me, and that's why, in that poem you referred to, I speak of him as `poet of all our cities.' Of course, the idea of the city is one which comes up in many forms throughout his work.
Pearsall: The `Just City,' in particular.
Wilbur: Yes. And I also referred in that poem to his `clever difference.' Some imagine that in that poem the people I evoke are taken out of Auden's poetry; they're not-they're simply people who have struck me at one time or another during my life and about whom I have come to realize that where they were going was to die... and now this remarkably clever, civilized and civilizing poet, Auden, has died too, and has made me think of how that happens to everybody, even to him, even to someone as clever and different as he. And that's the essence of the poem, really.
Pearsall: Auden's work, certainly the thirties poetry, is very much a product of the fact that he was so influenced by World War I, a war in which he and others his age had been too young to participate. There's a great sense in his work, and in Isherwood's, for example, of having missed something. How does that compare to your own experiences of not having been left out, of actually serving in World War II?
Wilbur: I don't know how to compare Auden's feeling of being or not being in the war with mine about having been. Obviously, there is nothing in his work that is the rehearsal and dismissal of a military trauma... he comes close to the idea of military combat in his poem about Spain, but I have a feeling that he and I aren't very comparable on this point. I think Auden's feelings about the war must have been very complicated: on the one hand a feeling of, as you said, something missed, but on the other a residual feeling that war was what Ezra Pound said it was, at least I think about Pound's words about World War I-so disillusioned-`There died a myriad, / And of the best, among them, / For an old bitch gone in the teeth, / For a botched civilization'-the feeling that a whole lot of old guys had sent a lot of young guys off to die for nothing was certainly an idea inherited by Auden's generation, so they had to think doubly about war, and many of them were inclined toward pacifism.
Pearsall: Yes. Auden was criticized by George Orwell in his essay `Inside the Whale' for his naiveté about war; he remarked that Auden was always conveniently `somewhere else when the trigger was pulled.'
Wilbur: Yes. And Auden was certainly often reprehended by some people for skipping to America at the advent of World War II.
Pearsall: One of the things I know about Auden that I don't detect in your work is his habit of discarding poems he no longer liked or felt comfortable with. Some good poems, for example, he decided not to keep, and he did not include them in future volumes of his work. You don't seem to do that, you seem to save what you have written.
Wilbur: Well, it's not that I'm in love with everything that I've ever written, it's just that I don't feel as if I were the same person who wrote the earliest poems in the collected volume, and so since other people have said, `Leave them,' and since almost all of those poems have their advocates, I've let them stay. I've never had the experience of turning rather violently on myself as Auden did when he declared the 1930s to have been a `low dishonest decade,' and embarked on being a Christian poet. That was really quite a shift, and therefore, he shucked off some of his early poems as dishonest, as untrue. I may not have seen through to the untruth of some of my early poems; in any case, I haven't turned on myself in that way.
Pearsall: So you think he was wrong in discarding some of his good poems that he decided were just no longer true?
Wilbur: Well, I think it's up to him, really. I think it would be wrong of us to discard any of his poems as untrue or as not consistent with our idea of what he ought to be. I think it's his business if he feels, as he ought to, that truth is very important in poetry. I think it's his business to throw away a poem, even if it is a good poem, in order to feel self-consistent or in order to satisfy his present sense of truth.
Richard Wilbur's Pulitzer Prize-winning New and Collected Poems was published in 1988. Lorraine Pearsall wrote her doctoral dissertation at The University of Georgia on W. H. Auden.
Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf. Arcifanfano, King of Fools; or, It's Always Too Late to Learn. Newell Jenkins conducting; Eleanor Steber, soprano (Gloriosa); Anna Russell, mezzo-soprano (Garbata); Patricia Brooks, soprano (Semplicina); John McCollum, tenor (Sordidone); David Smith, baritone (Arcifanfano); Heinz Rehfuss, bass (Furibondo); Joseph Sopher, tenor (Malgoverno); [The Clarion Music Society Orchestra]. Live performance: New York; 1965. VAI AUDIO VAIA 1010-2 [ADD]; two discs: timing: 66:27, 65:24. (Available from: VAI Audio, 158 Linwood Plaza, Suite 301, Fort Lee, NJ 07024.)
Hans Werner Henze. The Bassarids. Gerd Albrecht conducting; Karan Armstrong, soprano (Agave); Celina Lindsley, soprano (Autonoe); Ortrun Wenkel, alto (Beroe); Kenneth Riegel, tenor (Dionysus, Voice, Stranger); Robert Tear, tenor (Tiresias); Andreas Schmidt, baritone (Pentheus); Michael Burt, baritone (Cadmus); William B. Murray, bass (Captain of the Guard); RIAS-Kammerchor; Südfunkchor; Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. KOCH-SCHWANN MUSICA MUNDI CD 314 006 K3 [DDD]; two discs: timing: 61:10, 54:18.
Benjamin Britten. Paul Bunyan - Opera. Philip Brunelle conducting; Pop Wagner, tenor/baritone (Narrator); James Lawless (Paul Bunyan); Dan Dressen, tenor (Johnny Inkslinger); Elisabeth Comeaux Nelson, soprano (Tiny); Clifton Ware, tenor (Slim); Soloists, Chorus, and Orchestra of the Plymouth Music Series, Minnesota; VIRGIN CLASSICS VCD 7 90710-2 [DDD]; two discs: timing: 64:10, 48:24.
W. H. Auden's opera libretti are surely the most critically neglected portion of his enormous oeuvre. They have mostly been either ignored by critics or dealt with in summary terms. Their neglect not only depreciates one of the poet's most significant achievements (for Auden was after the Austrian Hugo von Hofmannsthal the greatest librettist of the century); it also distorts the shape of Auden's career. His interest in opera was the logical outgrowth of his earlier commitment to verse drama, and the libretti bear a strong, if subtle, relation to the long poems Auden wrote between 1938 and 1947. Musical theater, Auden realized, was the only area of contemporary drama in which the poet remained an essential contributor, and opera was the form that gave the poet most imaginative freedom. When Auden made his famous statement in 1967 that `Opera is the last refuge of the High Style,' he was specifically talking about the text not the music.
The reasons for underrating Auden's operatic career are not difficult to discover. Few literary critics know much about opera, and fewer still enjoy contemporary opera. There is also an abiding Anglo-Saxon prejudice against the art form. Except for a few fin-de-siècle Wagnerians, British and American intellectuals have rarely considered opera a serious form of drama. Indeed, even many musicologists and music critics have considered opera a vulgar medium, invented by frivolous and melodramatic Italians and perpetuated by the philistine and conservative upper classes. (Auden himself shared many of these prejudices before meeting Chester Kallman.) If opera's reputation has traditionally been dubious among musicologists, it has been worse still among literati. Is any literary form more universally dismissed than the libretto? Libretti are almost inevitably assumed to be bad drama and execrable verse-especially by individuals who cannot read them in the original language. Only recently have English-language critics like Herbert Lindenberger, Patrick J. Smith, and Gary Schmidgall begun studying the libretto seriously as a distinct literary genre.
Even among literary critics with a taste for opera, however, Auden's libretti present intricate theoretical problems. How does one discuss the text of an opera separately from the music that so clearly shapes and sometimes even alters its meaning? In opera, moreover, the composer's textual influence is not merely post factum; a composer frequently dictates the subject and treatment of a libretto. Stravinsky, for example, had already decided to write an opera based on Hogarth's engravings of `The Rake's Progress' before he asked his American publisher to approach Auden; he also developed the initial scenario with the poet as well as suggested minor changes and additions to the text. Opera is the essential Gesamtkunstwerk. If a critic decides to discuss the text's relation to the music, there are the practical and technical issues of describing the score, which require a musical expertise beyond the scope of most literati. The issues raised by collaborative art, however, do not end, in Auden's case, with understanding the role of the composer. All of Auden's libretti, except Paul Bunyan, were written with Kallman. A Gesamtkunstwerk poses theoretical difficulties not ordinarily found in the poems, though drama, another performance art, potentially raises the same questions.
And yes, there is another, more practical difficulty in studying Auden's operas-hearing and seeing them. Auden rightly insisted that a libretto could not be judged on the page but only in relation to the musical drama it led the composer to create. The proof was in the performance. Opera, however, is a formidably complicated and expensive art form. Opera companies tend to program safely. Few contemporary operas are performed after their premiere run. Auden had the combination of luck and foresight to work with three major opera composers-Benjamin Britten (Paul Bunyan), Igor Stravinsky (The Rake's Progress), and Hans Werner Henze (Elegy for Young Lovers and The Bassarids) -- along with only one middling figure, Nicolas Nabokov (Love's Labour's Lost). Likewise, his and Kallman's translations were either of standard repertoire like The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni, or interesting contemporary works, like Kurt Weill and Bertold Brecht's opera The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny and their song-ballet, The Seven Deadly Sins (as well as the lyrics for Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle and Mother Courage). Only Auden and Kallman's translation of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf's Arcifanfano, King of Fools was entirely off the beaten track. Yet even with such generally prudent collaborations, it is no easy task to see or even hear these works. Britten kept Paul Bunyan out of performance for 35 years because he felt it needed revision. (By the time it was broadcast on BBC in 1976, Auden was dead.) Love's Labour's Lost has only had a single production outside of Brussels where it had its world premiere and one revival. The other original works receive occasional productions. Only The Rake's Progress has found something approaching a regular place in the repertoire. In 25 years of following various productions, I have seen only half the original operas and translations in production, though I have now heard them all in broadcast or recording, except the Nabokov, and Don Giovanni.
What is the serious student of these works to do? The answer to that question has recently become easier with the release of three new recordings, Paul Bunyan, The Bassarids, and Arcifanfano. Each of these recordings has a different provenance. I will not discuss Paul Bunyan at length. Let me simply say that the Virgin Classics set is well-sung, well-recorded, and carefully produced. The detailed booklet accompanying the disks represents a significant piece of Auden scholarship. The opera is not an integrated masterpiece like Britten's Peter Grimes or The Turn of the Screw, but though the score is disjointed and uneven, it is never dull and frequently inspired. No Britten admirer will want to be without it. The libretto represents an irresistible combination of unusual Auden (American myth-making) and characteristic Auden (prosodic pyrotechnics and satirical flash). The opera-cum-Broadway-musical is good enough that it will eventually get an international cast performance from the British, but why wait ten years? You don't know the American Auden if you haven't heard this engaging work.
I wish I could be equally enthusiastic about the lavish premiere recording of Henze's The Bassarids. Auden and Kallman wrote two dramatically compelling libretti for Henze. My personal favorite among the Auden-Kallman collaborations, Elegy for Young Lovers, inspired a rather dreary serial score from the composer-theatrically slick but musically shallow. Henze is a skillful but often derivative composer who flips among several modernist and avant-garde styles. What a shame Richard Strauss or even Erich Wolfgang Korngold never got his hands on this Hofmannsthalian libretto. But in The Bassarids Henze created a masterpiece of intensity, creating a tight, symphonic style that combines Stravinsky and Strauss without ever sounding second hand. The original opera consists of four, long symphonic movements, all tragic in tone, with a savagely funny rococo intermezzo at the beginning of the third movement. Koch International has given The Bassarids a recording production few contemporary operas ever receive-a superb cast of international class singers, taut conducting of a huge well-rehearsed orchestra, and stunning sound. Tenor Kenneth Riegel makes a commanding Dionysus. Baritone Andreas Schmidt is a convincing Pentheus. Soprano Karan Armstrong sings Agave stunningly, and veteran tenor Robert Tear is a notable Tiresias. Conductor Gerd Albrecht and the Berlin Radio Symphony make an overwhelming case for the music. And, mirabile dictu, the Germans recorded this opera, which has been performed mostly in Germany, in Auden and Kallman's rarely heard English.
It all sounds ideal. What, then, is my problem? Henze has revised the opera by dropping the comic intermezzo. His revision has the advantage of making the opera shorter and emphasizing its abstract symphonic construction. The Bassarids now moves in a single, ineluctable tragic design-just like Euripides' original, The Bacchae. The disadvantage, however, is that Henze's performance not only simplifies but grossly distorts the Auden/Kallman drama. Dropping the salacious `Judgment of Calliope' section, which interjects unexpectedly dark comedy into the tragedy, also removes the post-modern elements of the opera (the juxtaposition of styles, the deliberate archaizing, the striking use of doggerel). The revised opera we are left with is something neatly fin-de-siècle-a Euripidean Salomé. The libretto could have been written by the young Hofmannsthal or the middle aged D'Annunzio. The original intermezzo also brought the libretto's Freudian elements to the surface, and in the process made King Pentheus more overtly contemporary and Bacchus more frighteningly devious. The cut also makes Henze's score more homogeneous and, dare I say it, a little too German in its relentlessly sober abstraction and schematization-a great thing for a string quartet but a liability in an opera. I have seen The Bassarids twice in performance (and heard it once in its revised concert format). The `Judgment of Calliope' creates a stunning coup de théâtre. It is also the moment the audience truly understands the opera's sexual subtext and realizes that Pentheus is inescapably doomed by his repressed desires. I am frankly astonished that in this age when `authentic' musical performance is carried to absurd lengths (replicating the exact number of string players of an original premiere or using half a dozen different historically reconstructed oboes in the course of a single concert) that such wholesale mutilation would occur in the world premiere recording (and therefore the reference recording) of a major contemporary work. The culprit, is, of course, the composer, who in a very Audenesque manner, is revising his own earlier work.
The bowdlerized Bassarids, however, remains a strong, if diminished, work. The Auden devotee should grit his or her teeth and buy the verdammte set. It is unlikely that there will be a better one coming along in this century. The Bassarids, which was first performed at the Salzburg Festival, requires bankruptingly huge forces-an oversize orchestra, large chorus, ballet dancers, eight soloists, special effects, and lots of rehearsal. It hasn't been seen much in America (Santa Fe Opera and University of Southern California are the only two performances I know of). I don't think it has ever been done in England. If an alternate `pirate' recording emerges of the full opera, therefore, it will probably be sung auf Deutsch, a decided disadvantage for readers of this newsletter. If you haven't seen the original opera, you probably won't know what you're missing.
VAI Audio's recording of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf's Arcifanfano, King of Fools; or, It's Always Too Late to Learn is an altogether happier affair, and not only because the opera is a comedy. Arcifanfano is also a world premiere recording, but this low budget wonder couldn't be more different from Koch's lavishly presented The Bassarids. The VAI 2 CD set is a pirate recording of a live performance at New York's Town Hall on November 11, 1965, the first public performance of the Auden/Kallman translation. The VAI packaging is minimal. There is a photograph of the two principal singers and a booklet, which seems to reproduce the text of the original Town Hall program, that gives the text of the arias but omits the recitatives. (Auden collectors may wish to acquire the CD set simply for the booklet, which constitutes the libretto's first separate, if abbreviated, publication.) The sound is excellent for a live recording-clear, balanced, and without the upper range distortion that afflicts some live opera tapes. (I called VAI to check the provenance of the recording and was told that the 11/11/65 tape was supplemented with a slightly later Carnegie Hall performance, using the same cast, to assure the best possible sound.) What an unexpected treat to have an excellent original cast recording of Auden/Kallman's least known operatic venture.
Don't be embarrassed if you haven't heard of Karl (or Carl) Ditters von Dittersdorf. He is an almost entirely forgotten composer. Only his set of twelve short symphonies based on Ovid's Metamorphoses are performed today, and even they are considered rarities. Yet Dittersdorf (1739-1799), a contemporary of Gluck, Haydn and Mozart, was an important composer in his day. He was late eighteenth-century Vienna's most popular composer of Singspiels (comic operas with spoken dialogue rather than sung recitatives-the ancestor of operetta). He was also a friend of both Michael and Franz Joseph Haydn. For many years Dittersdorf was Kapellmeister for Count Schaffgotsch, the Prince-Bishop of Breslau, at Johannisberg, and he persuaded his patron to build a theater. Dittersdorf composed a series of comic operas for the new theater. All of his texts were Italian, which had more social panache than German. In 1776 he set Carlo Goldoni's Arcifanfano, Re Dei Matti (Arcifanfano, King of Madmen), an opera buffa libretto in the commedia dell' arte tradition that Goldoni had written for Venice's 1749-50 carnival season. Goldoni's text was originally set by Baldassare Galuppi (the title figure of Robert Browning's poem `A Toccata of Galuppi's'), but in the eighteenth century good libretti were frequently reused by composers. About this time the Prince-Bishop's finances ran into trouble. Dittersdorf sent his scores to Prince Esterhazy, Franz Joseph Haydn's employer, hoping to secure a new source of patronage. In 1777 Haydn conducted a performance of Arcifanfano at Esterhazy.
The Dittersdorf opera, therefore, has significant literary interest. Auden and Kallman adapted a wonderfully wacky farce by Goldoni, a central master of European comedy. Arcifanfano was one of the fantastic moral satires with which Goldoni revolutionized Venetian opera when he returned to theater after years of toiling away at the law. The plot uses a simple premise that Goldoni typically turns to immensely complicated comic uses. Arcifanfano, the King of Madmen, accepts applications for citizenship from six visiting loonies, each displaying a different mania (a wildly pugnacious man, a vain beauty, a groveling miser, a manic spendthrift, a neurotically shy virgin, and a glad-hearted zany). The appeal of the dramatic situation to both librettist and composer is manifest. Auden and Kallman obviously enjoyed translating Goldoni's text; their delight sparkles on every page. This recording makes it clear how much the performers and the audience loved it as well. The singers make the most of the librettists' outrageous rhymes. (The dialogue is sung to harpsichord accompaniment because this is Italian opera buffa rather than German Singspiel.) The audience roars with approval.
The performance is wonderful. The evening was built around two stars-the Metropolitan Opera's aging diva Eleanor Steber and the British comedienne Anna Russell. The tape caught them both in great form. Steber had just sung her last season at the Met, but she handles Dittersdorf's undemanding music with panache. She was a great artist (the singer for whom Samuel Barber wrote both the title role of Vanessa and his exquisite Summer: Knoxville, 1915). Anna Russell is largely forgotten now, but in 1965 she was famous among opera aficionados as the premier parodist of serious music, especially Wagner's Ring. The closest contemporary equivalent to Russell's style is the quick, jumpcut patter of Robin Williams. When she's on-stage, it's her show. To hear Russell twist every laugh out of Garbata the Zany's recitatives is a joy-even if she does improvise shamelessly. The rest of the cast is astonishingly good for a specialty one-shot evening. The coloratura soprano Patricia Brooks, who sings the shy Semplice, is nothing less than superb-no wonder Arcifanfano decides to marry her at the opera's end. The male singers are all strong. The orchestra, a pick-up group, handles the unfamiliar score well, and maestro Newell Jenkins keeps things moving. The music isn't Mozart or Rossini; it isn't even Haydn, but it's bright and tuneful. The singers believe in the outlandish drama, because the translation makes it fun for them, and that confidence makes all the difference in the performance of an unknown minor work.
The VAI recording of Arcifanfano is an important historical document. No studio recording will ever capture the spirit of the collaboration better than this freewheeling romp. It's also great fun to hear; I broke out laughing half a dozen times. (Textual scholars should note that there are a great many small differences between the text as printed by VAI and the text as performed by the cast. Many of the changes make the lyrics much funnier. Auden and Kallman presumably attended rehearsals. Are these last minute rewrites-a typical procedure for premieres-or ad libs? Presumably the projected future volume of Auden's translations will clarify the matter. In the meantime someone should track down conductor Newell Jenkins and interview him.) Don't expect a musical masterpiece from Dittersdorf, but do acquire Arcifanfano. You won't regret this wise investment in folly.
Dana Gioia is a poet and critic who lives in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. He has recently translated Seneca's tragedy, Hercules Furens and is currently working on a libretto for the composer, Alva Henderson.
W. H. Auden. The Prolific and the Devourer. 101 pp. Hopewell, NJ: Ecco Press, $18.00. ISBN 0-88001-345-1.
John Deedy. Auden as Didymus: The Poet as Columnist Anonymous. 72 pp. Published by Paul P. Appel, 216 Washington Street, Mt Vernon, NY 10553, $15.00 [but see below]. ISBN 0-911858-41-5.
Two recent publications cast light on Auden's thoughts and ambitions during his early years in America and, in particular, on the nature of his rapidly-evolving beliefs around the period when he returned to the church.
Auden wrote the first and more important of these volumes, The Prolific and the Devourer, under a baking pre-War sun on D. H. Lawrence's old ranch in New Mexico in the summer of 1939. Although never printed in Auden's lifetime, it is now well-known to most readers and it provides an obvious instance of the ways in which, for some time to come, Auden's canon, like the universe itself, will continue to expand. Shortly after he arrived back in New York in late August 1939, Auden abandoned the idea of publishing The Prolific and the Devourer as it then stood, but he felt the book was good enough to show to friends, and the following year he quarried a great deal of material from it for use in the `Notes' to `New Year Letter'. In fact, Auden carried over so much writing from one to the other that The Prolific and the Devourer stands in roughly the same evolutionary relation to The Double Man as The Chase does to The Dog Beneath the Skin. A purist, talking to the mirror, might argue that The Prolific and the Devourer is not an autonomous work at all, but an early, draft state of parts of The Double Man.
Yet however intimately related the texts are verbally, their general outlooks contrast in several vital respects: The Prolific and the Devourer's sunny faith in the ultimate rightness of historical processes, for instance, and its upper-middle class disdain for `Judges, Policemen, Critics' (`the real Lower Orders, the low, sly lives, whom no decent person should receive in his house') have both vanished from the later book. (Even as early as October 1939 Auden had amending himself here, asserting that: `Poets and their critics | Are the same in bed.') In addition, Jesus, who is the subject of considerable speculation in The Prolific and the Devourer, and is envisioned there as a kind of humbler version of the all-knowing Gerald Heard, is hardly mentioned (and that only in passing) in the entire length of the more openly religious Double Man. Auden's extensive revisions of and cuts to The Prolific and the Devourer had ultimately created a new work.
So, to have parked the obsolete prototype of The Prolific and the Devourer in the remote hangar of an editor's appendix would have meant obscuring a great deal of important information about Auden's early life and his immediately pre-Christian state of mind, a fact that Edward Mendelson recognized when he printed part 1 of the book in The English Auden in 1977. In response to readers' requests, Mendelson then published the full text in Antaeus in 1981. By that point, for better or worse, in the eyes of most critics The Prolific and the Devourer had become a book in its own right. It would be pointless now to worry over this haphazardly-achieved fait accompli and silly to regret it. The Prolific and the Devourer takes its place as a key transitional work, easily the longest, most speculative and introspective piece of prose Auden had written by that stage in his career, and a highly-detailed snapshot of his thinking at a time when his attitudes were changing almost as swiftly as the political landscape in Europe.
But to say all that is not to deny that the book, as Auden abandoned it, is ragged, shapeless, and deeply divided against itself: an obvious manifestation of his unsettled relations with both his old secular and new religious ideologies. (The lengthy inner debates perhaps also suggest where his deepest energies were being exercised: even on the `honeymoon' with Kallman there was a prior long-term commitment to and dependence on writing-`the only way in which I shall ever see anything clearly is through the word and the symbol,' Auden wrote at one point. Another entry reads: `words so affect me that a pornographic story, for example, excites me sexually more than a living person can do.') The Prolific and the Devourer's formal methods-a hodge-podge of freestanding aphorisms, micro-essays, and set-piece internal dialogues-allow for a generous scattering of intuitive assertions without the need for the various parts to be forged into a sustained argument. Indeed the book's power seems to dissipate in its later stages as Auden lengthily struggles to cross from private reminiscence into public analysis so that many illuminatingly direct asides are left suspended like drops of dew in a web of theoretical contradiction.
This new edition, which essentially completes The Prolific and the Devourer's rehabilitation, is a corrected version of the Antaeus text, usefully complemented by a pithy and suggestive preface from Mendelson. Books being objects more or less attractively-designed, more or less physically-manageable, it may not be irrelevant to add that it is good to have such a well-presented hardback edition of this text in print, though so far the text has an American but not an English publisher. While that fact may have a symbolic significance-The Prolific and the Devourer foreshadows many of the major new directions that Auden's work took in the United States (into prose as an artistic medium in its own right, into the intellectual poetry of dogma) -- it is a shame on every other count.
Auden as Didymus has a more questionable status as a separate book. At the end of 1942 Auden published a series of `Lecture Notes' in the liberal Catholic magazine, Commonweal. Kierkegaard was exercising an overwhelmingly powerful influence on Auden's thinking at the time, as is evident from the specialized terminology used in these columns. Just as the Danish theologian had used a series of ornate pseudonyms for his `aesthetic' works, so Auden adopted the Kierkegaardian-sounding `Didymus' for these religious jottings. The pseudonym is simultaneously an act of self-revelation (Didymus is the Greek name for `Doubting Thomas') and an act of self-withdrawal, an attempt to allow the pure authority of the Word to be judged in isolation from the prestige of the speaker's name.
John Deedy, a former managing editor of Commonweal, has simply gathered up these pieces, reprinted them (original typos and garbled passages included), and provided an introduction in which he discusses Auden's relations with Commonweal. For someone who was describing himself around this time as a `dyed-in-the-wool Protestant' to friends, Auden's link with a Catholic magazine was, as Deedy points out, an unusually ecumenical gesture in a generally sectarian age. But Auden was in any case comfortable with Catholicism from childhood memories of his mother's High Church-going, a tradition he described to an interviewer at Swarthmore in 1943 as centering on `rugs, jugs and ritual.' (In Britain later on during the war there were even reports that, far away in America, Auden had become a Catholic.)
The main focus of these Commonweal columns is the nature of the hero-a common enough theme in wartime, but one that Auden took far beyond a simple military context into broader ethical and religious regions. In works such as his introduction to The Greek Reader and The Enchafèd Flood he remained absorbed by the problem of heroism in a modern society until the end of the forties and beyond. (A few phrases from these `Lecture Notes' turn up again in the much later essay `Hic et Ille'.)
While the limited scope and occasionally brittle tone of the `Notes' mean that they are not amongst Auden's best work from the war years, they do strikingly demonstrate his new-found fascination with metaphysics and theology. He was, as later he Johnsonianly wrote in his essay in Modern Canterbury Pilgrims, `accustomed from [his] earliest years to doctrinal and liturgical controversy' and already by 1942 he had taken again to exercises in Christian dialectics and theological `shop' with a passion and nimbleness that he never showed during the thirties in his encounters with Marx. But whatever political hopes Auden may have given up at the end of the thirties, he never fell back on the bluff British anti-theoretical religion of empiricism and common sense. To find the last English poet as open to continental metaphysics and poetry as Auden was, you would have to go back to another great wandering speculator and systematizer-Coleridge.
(Auden Society members can purchase Auden as Didymus direct from the publisher at a discount of 10% on the retail price. Those wishing to do so should send cheques for $14.41 ($13.50 + 91c postage) to Paul P. Appel at the above address, marking their cheques `Auden Society Discount'. New York State residents must add 8¼% sales tax.)
The public library in Keswick possesses a copy of the third edition (1913) of J. Postlethwaite's Mines and Mining in the Lake District, signed W. H. Auden with the date `15.8.21.' in the front, and `w. h. auden' in block capitals in the back. This book, sold originally, it seems, by the Wordsworth Bookshop in Keswick, came to the library from Hugh Walpole's own collection. (Walpole spent his later years on the Brackenburn estate in Borrowdale till his death in 1941.)
The front of the book contains one loose photograph captioned in pencil, of the Fairbourne quarry and one uncaptioned of unidentified mine workings. There are six photographic prints stuck in the back of the book. These are identified in pencil as: Goldscope Mine, Dalehead Mine, Threlkeld Mine, Brundholme Mine, Coniston Mine, and Carrock Mine. They are all Lakeland locations, and seem to indicate (assuming the photographs are actually by Auden) that the poet's earliest explorations were to the west of the Eden valley. Comparison of the captions with the signature has proved fruitless.
Alan Myers, the author of this and several following notes, is a translator from the Russian, who has most recently translated Dostoevsky's The Idiot for the OUP World's Classics series. He has also published articles on the literary connections of North-East England.
W. H. Auden Society members may have seen my brief article in Notes and Queries, December 1993. I am seeking further information about a copy of a book entitled Prose Pieces and Poems by Anthony Abbot (London, 1929), which has recently come into my possession. The copy includes the inscription: `To W. H. Auden in grateful appreciation of his kind help | E. C. Tenterden 1929'.
The book is listed in B. C. Bloomfield and Edward Mendelson's W. H. Auden: A Bibliography 1924-1969 in Section G. Auden and one Mr D. A. Sington helped to arrange the verses and essays in the book but details of Auden's involvement in the editing process appear to be unavailable.
The author of the book, Anthony Abbot, was the only son of Lord and Lady Tenterden. He died, aged nineteen, on 14 March 1928. The E. C. Tenterden of the inscription is his mother, Elfrida Charlotte Tenterden. The book was printed by Victor Gollancz and Auden may have received it from the Tenterdens when he spent time in London during the summer of 1929. This copy subsequently passed into the possession of a library and is marked `Guild of Undergraduates Union Library University of Birmingham'. The date of the return slip pasted in the back is marked `6/58' in pencil. There is also a number in ink pen on the reverse of the title page which reads `P.1604'. Unfortunately the book bears neither Auden's signature nor any sign of marginal annotation.
I would be grateful for any further information about the book and its history, but especially Auden's own part in its preparation.
C. J. P. SMITH
16 Park Place, Brynmill, Swansea SA2 0DJ, United Kingdom
Norman Williams's interesting reflections on The Dog Beneath the Skin (in Newsletter 10-11) prompt me to submit a few ideas of my own to amplify some of the points he touches upon. Auden's abiding love for the high fell country near Alston and Nenthead, where Durham, Northumberland, and Cumbria meet, is evident from the earliest poems to `Prologue at Sixty'-and ringingly declared in `New Year Letter'; it needs no rehearsal here. Auden must be the only poet to note a similarity between Italy and his northern `Mutterland'.
The images of North Pennine industrial topography are extraordinarily prevalent not only in Paid On Both Sides, as Mr Williams notes, but also in The Enemies of a Bishop (1929), where we find mills, pyrites and The Old Mountain Lead Company-an obvious allusion to the Vieille Montagne Zinc Co. which arrived in 1896 to build modern mills at Nenthead. The Fronny (1930) contains even more names, including Leadgate, just south of Alston, and Daddry (in Weardale). The Sedling Mine mentioned is at Cowshill on the A689 road in Durham.
Item, to Cushy, the unshaven Scot
Who showed us the engine at Hackwood Pit
The cranks of which still menace me in dreams
A weekly pint at the Miners Arms.
As the Miners Arms is in Nenthead, Hackwood Pit seems likely to have been close by (perhaps Haggs Pit?).
The list of locations in the opening chorus of The Chase (1934) was severely pruned in the later version of the play-The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935) -- along with the sub-plot involving a strike at `Windyacre Mine'. The lunatics do, however, speculate that someone has been sent to the Lead Mines-a fate probably unique in drama. The excised material includes: `A stone lamp at Midge Pits; a bronze axe head at Softly Side.' Midge Pits is part of the Sedling Mine at Cowshill, while Softly Side is the local name for the B6278 road south from Stanhope to Eggleston in Teesdale. Windyacre Mine is the only one working near Pressan Ambo. There Mr Fordham has
installed the latest machinery
A power house at Sally Grain; a power house with a pelton wheel.
He has replaced the buddles by magnetic separators, separating blende from galena.
The processes mentioned here, however, refer to zinc rather than lead, and point to a location close to Nenthead, where there were rich zinc deposits, rather than further down Weardale, where the Sally Grain (rising under Dead Stones) is a stream running into Burnhope Burn, and thence via the reservoir into the River Wear at Wearhead. The various lead mining companies at this time were building modern dressing mills with new power sources, entirely superseding the old open-air dressing floors. The Vieille Montagne Company's new mill in Nenthead, for example (under construction in 1909), was on a formidable scale and used a magnetic separator for iron.
Mr Williams plausibly suggests Edenhall as the village Pressan Ambo, with Honeypot Hall close at hand. Lines from `New Year Letter' lend support to the supposition:
There, where the eden leisures through
Its sandstone valley, is my view
Of green and civil life that dwells
Below a cliff of savage fells.
Nevertheless, all of Auden's specific mining references lie much further east, on the heights around Nenthead. Hartside Pass, at 2,000 feet a celebrated viewpoint on the A686, is on the way to Alston, well beyond Edenhall. The motorist in the Act II chorus is actually `changing up at last' after the climb to the moors, as he sees the roll-call of named fells lying `east and south'.
The village of Pressan Ambo itself has a southern ring to it. (Wendens Ambo is in Essex, for example.) Nevertheless, Ambo, with its implication of both/two, may refer to the adjoining Weardale villages of Westgate and Eastgate. The nearby Cambo Keels Mine, lying between the two, may have suggested the verbal link. This mine, after being abandoned in 1871, was re-opened in 1906 and by 1927 had produced 30,000 tons of fluorspar. It was re-opened again in 1948 and is still working, so it may be the best candidate for `Windyacre Mine', though it was not the only mine working in the vicinity in Auden's time. Boltsburn at Rookhope and Rampgill at Nenthead were both operating with modern machinery at this period. Perhaps it should be mentioned here that the obscure lines in the celebrated `Witnesses'' chorus, which comes very closely after the excised material-`You are the town and we are the clock | We are the guardians of the gate in the rock'-quite probably refer to the numerous lead mines which possessed substantial portals in the form of stone gateways, sometimes with an inscribed tablet above. Cambo Keels has one such, as has Greenlaws Mine nearby. When one considers the amount of specific lead-mining imagery cut out, such speculation is by no means far-fetched, especially when combined with the fact that Westgate possessed, as well as the requisite vicarage, an eye-catching clock over the road-prominent enough to be mentioned in the Shell Guide. The village possesses an interesting house called `Windgate' and a terrace called `Windyside'. It should be noted that there is a widespread local tradition that Auden stayed in Westgate, as well as at a cottage in Rookhope owned by a friend. These have not yet been traced.
Westgate and Eastgate in fact marked the boundaries of the Bishop of Durham's deer park (there is also a deserted farmstead at Northgate) and an earthwork marks the site of a 14th-century bishop's hunting lodge behind a shop in the village. Auden's familiar `Witness' figures of the chorus are thus in a disconcertingly direct sense here, `Lords of limit' and `The stocky keepers of a wild estate'.
As for the name Pressan, it is possible that the Derwent lead mines under Bolt's Law, north of Rookhope, can supply the answer. The Presser Shaft, with engine house, boiler house, and chimney still standing, comprises the only substantial building complex among a maze of flues, railways, and mine installations. This is the only name in the area which remotely approximates to Pressan. The Presser Shaft lies off the road over Rookhope Moor from Westgate to Blanchland, where Auden and Gabriel Carritt stayed at the Lord Crewe Arms at Easter 1930. This idyllic village, built in the 18th century within the walls of a Premonstratensian abbey, belongs to the Crewe Trustees. Here may be seen the portrait of Nathaniel, Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham from 1674-1721 alongside that of his bride Dorothy Forster, whose niece and namesake rescued her brother, `General' Tom Forster, from a London jail after the 1715 rebellion, enabling him to flee to France. Dorothy, disguised as a servant, rode pillion to London behind a village blacksmith and extricated her brother in a daring operation involving duplicate keys. Her ghost is said to haunt the Bamburgh Room at the Lord Crewe Arms. Tom Forster's estate, including Blanchland, was forfeit. The celebrated bishop did much work in beautifying the diocese, and it is quite conceivably his name and the land owned by the Bishops, which Auden had in mind in The Dog Beneath the Skin.
However, scrutiny of Auden's alliterative epic `In the year of my youth' (transcribed by Lucy S. McDiarmid, Review of English Studies, August 1978), on which he was working in late 1932, seems to reveal clear references to both Blanchland and the Lord Crewe Arms which may in turn be taken to suggest that it is Blanchland rather than Westgate which should be identified with Pressan.
Part II of the poem sees Auden and Sampson preparing to join an expedition to round up absconding workers in the hills. They drive out of the city (Durham, apparently, from the ecstatic description of the cathedral in Part I) and eventually reach a gateway: `Beautiful arabesques of wrought iron | Set in a keep of stonework with an attic over'. This is remarkably like the mediaeval entrance into the village square at Blanchland, now minus its gates. Blanchland is set, as the Shell Guide puts it, `in the glorious remote moorland country, where the River Derwent divides County Durham from Northumberland: woodlands of larch and oak conceal the few signs of habitation.' Auden's description of a gravel drive running round a lawn encircled by 14th-century houses, `ivy meeting over mullioned windows', is also very reminiscent of Blanchland, where much mediaeval fabric was incorporated in the 18th-century metamorphosis of abbey into village. Identification comes especially close when Auden describes a room indoors:
the third end wall
Receded into vast fireplace of stone
Where birch logs brightly blazed, the sweet sap sizzling.
Above it almost totally black
Was a portrait in oil of an eighteenth century bishop.
The fourth end was made by full french windows
Opening onto terrace where stood table for birds.
The room in the Lord Crewe Arms which has the french window is the Hilyard Room, with its vast fireplace and priest-hole that concealed Tom Forster in 1715; it was here that the Kneller portrait of Lord Crewe originally hung. It has been cleaned since Auden's day and is now in the dining-room of the hotel.
In the light of Auden's first-hand descriptions, it has to be admitted that Blanchland, with its ancient Crewe connection and delightful `twin' village of Hunstanworth, a step across the Durham border, would, like Westgate, be a tempting choice for Pressan Ambo. Hunstanworth was also a planned village, this time a quirkily Victorian one (built entirely by a vicar), and predictably boasts a more impressive vicarage than Blanchland. Both villages are close to mining-sites, including the Presser Shaft, a mile south towards Rookhope, and are the sort of sylvan retreat, nestling under wild moorland fells, that one expects Pressan Ambo to be. Compared to them, the Weardale villages of Westgate and Eastgate are, on reflection, perhaps rather too exposed. The most compelling evidence, however, may lie in Auden's remarks immediately after the `mullioned windows':
At first I gazed on all England's Glory
But looked again on a malicious lie
Doors seemed symbols of a [ ] [ ]
Deadly to sleeper as summer's adder
Life lurked there evil, envious, out of its epoch,
In which of course the lad of seventeen
Whom it has always sent and will send again
Against its fear, was gladly shipped.
This seems to fit Pressan very convincingly.
Speculation will no doubt continue on this delightfully tantalising subject.
In the very first issue of The W. H. Auden Society Newsletter an enquiry was made about Coghlan's coffin, mentioned in a chorus from The Dog Beneath the Skin. These lines first occur in The Chase (1934), and they can be found on p. 178 of the Plays: 1928-1938 (1988), edited by Edward Mendelson. In Robert L. Ripley's The Omnibus Believe It or Not! (London: Stanley Paul, undated) an article, referring to a Ripley cartoon published in the Evening Post on 15 September 1927, gives the story behind the reference.
The actor, Charles Coghlan, was buried in Galveston, Texas, in 1899. Following a hurricane and flood in September 1900, the coffin was washed out to sea and carried 2,000 miles by the Gulf Stream round Florida and up to Prince Edward Island where the actor was born.
Ripley's article goes on:
Ever since that fateful day Coghlan's daughter has searched for her father's coffin. She and her husband, Augustus Pitou, who was once Mr Coghlan's manager, have hired men by the year and spent thousands of dollars on the twenty-seven-year-long search. They never received a hint until-
Mrs Pitou was reading the Evening Post of the 15th September. She turned to the sports pages. There, Ripley's cartoon caught her eye.
`Believe it or not,' she read. `Charles Coghlan comes home. He dies in 1899 and was buried in Galveston. When the tragic flood came his coffin was washed out to sea and the Gulf Stream carried him around Florida and up the coast to Prince Edward Island -- 2,000 miles distant-where he was born.'
This was news to Mrs Pitou.
Ripley's article goes on to cite two sources for the information which apparently came as such a surprise to Coghlan's daughter: the theatrical memoirs of Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson, A Play Under Three Reigns, and those of Lily Langtry, The Days I Knew. Auden could also have read the story in one of Ripley's books or columns. Ripley's newspaper articles and cartoons were published in the Evening Post in America and also syndicated in 300 other papers over the world. Simon and Schuster had brought out two collections and an omnibus book of them by 1934, selling more than half a million copies.
While it is interesting to speculate how Auden's incessant reading had produced this image, the fact that he could not remember writing the line suggests that it is not important. But this must be what he meant.
In the opening chorus of The Dog Beneath the Skin we find: `north to Scot's Gap and Bellingham where the black rams defy the panting engine'. Bellingham (pronounced with a soft `g') lies in the North Tyne valley, which runs up into the Cheviots, well north of the Roman Wall at Hexham. The locations are oddly specific and the lines suggest personal observation. A railway (now gone) did in fact run from Hexham through Bellingham to the Scottish border.
From Bellingham, however, another railway line can still be traced, running east through Redesmouth towards Morpeth. While Bellingham may be regarded as a suitably extreme northerly point in Auden's hawk's eye view of England, Scot's Gap, despite its imposing name, is an inconspicuous village 15 miles east of Bellingham and some 40 miles from the border. Mention of it does seem to suggest that Auden used the line. Nor was he the only poet to do so. In a letter to Lady Paulina Trevelyan from the Turf Hotel in Newcastle on 8 December 1862, Algernon Swinburne, who frequented the Trevelyans' circle at Wallington Hall, and regarded Northumberland as his native county, proposes to arrive at `Scotus's Gap' by train from Morpeth.
In the bubbling flow of `Letter to Lord Byron' Auden carries on side conversations and arguments with several literary precursors besides the one he ostensibly addresses. For instance, the following lines are really meant for D. H. Lawrence:
To me Art's subject is the human clay,
And landscape but a background to a torso;
All Cézanne's apples I would give away
For one small Goya or a Daumier.
(The English Auden, 185)
In his `Introduction to Painting'-first published in 1929 and republished by Auden's own publisher, Faber and Faber, in September 1936, evidently around the time that Auden was composing this section of his poem-Lawrence had written:
But for me, personally, landscape is always waiting for something to occupy it. Landscape seems to be meant as a background to an intense vision of life, so to my feeling painted landscape is background with the real subject left out. (Pornography and So On [London, 1936], 80)
Lawrence's essay charts the decline of the body in English painting, resulting from sexual fear, and laments the success of landscape painting which avoids the deep conflicts associated with the sexual instincts. In Lawrence's historical account, the English fear of syphilis has developed since the Tudors into a general sexual fear, leaving Blake as the only English painter who dares handle the body. Auden's line in `Letter to Lord Byron', `It's hardly thought hygienic now to kiss' (The English Auden, 185), refers to the genesis of this revulsion from the body. Lawrence contrasts the English with the French:
The French, being rational, decided that the body had its place, but that it should be rationalized. [The Frenchman's] idea of sex is basically hygienic. Ca fait du bien au corps! sums up the Frenchman's idea of love, marriage, food, sport, and all the rest.... The Frenchman is afraid of syphilis and afraid of the procreative body, but not quite so deeply. He has known for a long time that you can take precautions. And he is not so profoundly imaginative. (84)
Thus, the French, argues Lawrence, have been able to paint the body, but most of them have not depicted its full imaginative existence:
Daumier satirized it, Courbet saw it as a toiling thing, Dégas saw it as a wonderful instrument. They all of them deny it its finest qualities, its deepest instincts, its purest intuitions. They prefer, as it were, to industrialize it. (80)
The Impressionists `dissolved' the body into sunlight and shadow (86), until, Lawrence argues, Cézanne made the `first tiny step back to real substance, to objective substance' (96) simply in the way that he painted an apple. In Lawrence's view:
Cézanne's apples are a real attempt to let the apple exist in its own separate entity, without transfusing it with personal emotion.... it is the first real sign that man has made for several thousands of years that he is willing to admit that matter actually exists.... ever since the mythological `Fall', man has been preoccupied with the constant preoccupation of the denial of the existence of matter, and the proof that matter is only a form of spirit. And then, the moment it is done, and we realize finally that matter is only a form of energy, whatever that may be, in the same instant, matter rises up and hits us over the head and makes us realize that it exists absolutely, since it is compact energy itself. (96-97)
After his success with the apple, Cézanne struggled to go on and paint the body in the same way, but, Lawrence explains, he failed:
He wanted to express what he suddenly, convulsedly knew: the existence of matter. He terribly wanted to paint the real existence of the body, to make it artistically palpable. But he couldn't. He hadn't got there yet. And it was the torture of his life. He wanted to be himself in his own procreative body-and he couldn't. He was, like all the rest of us, so intensively and exclusively a mental creature, or a spiritual creature, or an egoist, that he could no longer identify himself with his phallus. He wanted to terribly.... It was a question of abandoning his cerebral conceit and `willed ambition', and coming down to brass tacks. (98)
A little further on in the essay Lawrence continues:
Woman he was not allowed to know by intuition.... Man, other men, he was likewise not allowed to know-except by a few, few touches. The earth likewise he was not allowed to know: his landscapes are mostly acts of rebellion against the mental concept of landscape.... he did succeed in knowing an apple, fully; and, not quite so fully, a jug or two. That was all he achieved.
It seems little and he died embittered. But it is the first step that counts, and Cézanne's apple is a great deal, more than Plato's idea. (100)
In `Letter to Lord Byron' Auden makes clear that he buys only part of Lawrence's argument. If a landscape looks as empty to Auden as to Lawrence, Auden is unimpressed by Cézanne's apple. He prefers the socialized, and in Lawrence's view industrialized, body of a Daumier. To Auden, Daumier's subject is real-`the human clay'-and he speaks directly against Lawrence in expressing this, for Lawrence also wrote:
Cézanne was a realist, and he wanted to be true to life. But he would not be content with the optical cliché. With the impressionists, purely optical vision perfected itself and fell at once into cliché, with startling rapidity. Cézanne saw this. Artists like Courbet and Daumier were not purely optical, but the other element in these two painters, the intellectual element, was cliché. To the optical vision they added the concept of force-pressure, almost like a hydraulic break, and this force-pressure concept is mechanical, a cliché, though still popular. And Daumier added mental satire, and Courbet added a touch of a sort of socialism, both cliché and unimaginative. (120)
And finally Lawrence developed his argument like this:
If the human being is going to be primarily an Apple, as for Cézanne it was, then you are going to have a new world of men: a world which has very little to say, men that can just sit still and just be physically there and be truly non-moral. That was what Cézanne meant with his `Be an apple!' He knew perfectly well that the moment the model began to intrude her personality and her `mind', it would be cliché, and moral, and he would have to paint cliché. (122)
In youth, Auden was sometimes attracted to Lawrence's ideal of a simple, physical, non-thinking life, but he was far more interested in the human mind than in an apple; and he was fascinated by machinery, by industry, by society. Eventually, Auden achieved in his poetry something that Lawrence could not find anywhere in English landscape painting. Lawrence's `Introduction to Painting' emphasizes that for the English, landscape painting offered a way to escape the body; but in Auden's poetry-for instance, `Adolescence', `New Year Letter', or `In Praise of Limestone', but there are many other examples-landscape is used in precisely the opposite way. For Auden's favourite landscapes symbolize the body in all its psychological and spiritual dimensions and they express its deepest and most complex instinctual conflicts.
Lawrence's essay appeared in 1929 in The Paintings of D. H. Lawrence (The Mandrake Press), but it seems more likely that Auden saw the essay when it was reprinted by Faber and Faber in Pornography and So On. The Faber version was published 24 September 1936. For The English Auden, Edward Mendelson tells me that he used internal evidence to assign the date August 1936 to Part III of `Letter to Lord Byron'-the part that opens with a report of the arrival of a group of friends. He adds that the Lawrence essay convinces him Auden was taking dramatic license in suggesting he was actually in Iceland when he wrote these lines. Probably Auden wrote or revised this part of the poem in September or afterwards.
W. H. Auden's Juvenilia: Poems, 1922-1928, edited and annotated by Katherine Bucknell, will be published in June by Princeton University Press in the United States and Faber and Faber in Great Britain. Dr. Bucknell will be lecturing on the Juvenilia at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature at 10 am on 13 October. (Tickets are available from the Festival's Box Office, tel: 0242-227979.)
The historian and critic, Richard Davenport-Hines, a regular contributor to the TLS and the author of several books, including Sex, Death and Punishment (1990), The Macmillans (1992), and Vice (1993), is at work on a new biography of Auden. He would be pleased to hear from readers who have recollections of Auden which they would like to share with him or who have letters or manuscripts by Auden in their collections. All material loaned will be carefully handled and promptly returned. His address is: Richard Davenport-Hines, 51 Elsham Road, London W14 8HD, Great Britain.
On 26 April of this year at the YMHA Auditorium in Manhattan the tenor Paul Groves and the Laredo/Robinson/Kalichstein Trio will give the New York premiere of Ned Rorem's The Auden Poems. This 32-minute piece for piano-trio and solo voice was composed in 1989 for the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival and received its premiere there in 1990 with the composer himself at the piano. The seven Auden poems set to music are `The Shield of Achilles,' `Lady, weeping at the crossroads,' `Epitaph on a Tyrant,' `Lay your sleeping head, my love,' `But I can't' ['If I Could Tell You'], `Yes, we are going to suffer, now; the sky' [In Time of War XIV], and `Nocturne' ['Make this night loveable']. The performance will begin at 8pm and will be repeated at the same time on the following night. These concerts are part of a cycle of performances taking place during the 1993-94 season to celebrate Mr Rorem's 70th birthday.
The W. H. Auden Society welcomes new members. Annual subscriptions are as follows:
Concessions (students, unemployed, etc.) £ 3 $05
Individuals £ 6 $10
Institutions £ 8 $12
New members and members wishing to renew subscriptions should send cheques (payable to The W. H. Auden Society) to Katherine Bucknell, 78 Clarendon Road, London W11 2HW, England. Receipts on request.
For reasons of space, several reviews, including one of Edward Mendelson's edition of Auden and Kallman's Libretti have been held over until the next Newsletter. That number will also contain reviews of Katherine Bucknell's forthcoming edition of Auden's Juvenilia and of the Opera Factory's production of The Rake's Progress at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, London. (Beginning on 19 June and continuing intermittently through the summer, there will also be performances of the opera at Glyndebourne. Some tickets are still available from the Glyndebourne Box Office, tel: 0273-813813.)
We would be pleased to receive any articles or items for inclusion in future Newsletters. All contributions may be subject to editing.
U. S. Editor: Nicholas Jenkins, 193 Prospect Place, Apt 4, Brooklyn, NY 11238, USA.
U. K. Editor: Kathleen Bell, 37 Redwood Crescent, Beeston, Nottingham NG9 1JF, England.
Quotations from Auden's work are copyright by The Estate of W. H. Auden.
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