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W. H. Auden: Prose, Volume III, 1949-1955

Overview

This volume contains all of W. H. Auden's prose works from 1949 through 1955, including many little-known essays that exemplify his range, wit, depth, and wisdom. The book includes the complete text of Auden's first separately published prose book, The Enchafèd Flood, or, The Romantic Iconography of the Sea, followed by more than one hundred separate essays, reviews, introductions, and lectures, as well as a questionnaire (complete with his own answers) about the reader's fantasy version of Eden. Two reviews that...

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Overview

This volume contains all of W. H. Auden's prose works from 1949 through 1955, including many little-known essays that exemplify his range, wit, depth, and wisdom. The book includes the complete text of Auden's first separately published prose book, The Enchafèd Flood, or, The Romantic Iconography of the Sea, followed by more than one hundred separate essays, reviews, introductions, and lectures, as well as a questionnaire (complete with his own answers) about the reader's fantasy version of Eden. Two reviews that Auden wrote for the New Yorker, but which the magazine never printed, appear here for the first time, and a series of aphorisms previously published only in a French translation are printed in English. Among the previously unpublished lectures is a long account of the composition of his poem "Prime," complete with his comments on early rejected drafts.

The variety of style and subject in this book is almost inexhaustible. Auden writes about the imaginary mirrors that everyone carries through life; French existentialism and New Yorker cartoons; Freud, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, and Camus; Keats, Cervantes, Melville, Colette, Byron, Virgil, Yeats, Tolkien, and Virginia Woolf; opera, ballet, cinema, prosody, and music; English and American poetry and society; and politics and religion.

The introduction by Edward Mendelson places the essays in biographical and historical context, and the extensive textual notes explain obscure contemporary references and provide an often-amusing history of Auden's work as an editor of anthologies and a series of books by younger poets.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Sun
With the fifth volume of his 'Complete Works' and the third of his prose out—with a fourth, and final volume promised—we can glimpse almost the full range of [Auden's] interests and his remarkable versatility...When Auden felt affinity with a subject, his prose could dazzle. His essay here on Oscar Wilde, 'A Playboy of the Western World: St. Oscar, the Hominterm Martyr,' is at once poignant and astute, as is his fine introduction to a selection of Edgar Allan Poe's writings. But the best essay may be 'Portrait of a Whig,' Auden's searching and affectionate study of the inimitable Sydney Smith (1771?1845).
— Eric Ormsby
Times Literary Supplement
[Auden's] versatility and spikily independent literary intelligence are frequently on display in Prose, Volume Three: 1949-1955, the most recent volume in the magnificent Complete Works.
— Stefan Collini
London Review of Books
This latest installment of Edward Mendelson's edition of the Complete Works contains Auden's prose writings from a mere six years, roughly the poet's forties. It was preceded by two large volumes covering 1926 to 1938 and 1939 to 1948. The three total more than two thousand pages and there will have to be at least one more volume, covering the period between 1955 and Auden's death in 1973. When you add in the volumes already devoted to plays, libretti, poems, it becomes hard to avoid describing the whole enterprise as heroic. In fact it could also be described as unique, for no other 20th-century English poet has been so fully and patiently honoured.
— Frank Kermode
Buffalo News
Few great and greatly prolific poets wrote as much irresistible and glorious prose as W.H. Auden but he was, by any assay, one of the greatest essayists and critics of the 20th century. And here we have Auden in his 40s, one of the greatest eras of Auden prose, the era of The Enchaféd Flood, and so many of the essays collected in The Dyer's Hand.
— Jeff Simon
Boston Book Review
Praise for previous volumes: The Complete Works, edited with elegant scruple by Auden's literary executor Edward Mendelson is . . . the only way to get at Auden as he happened, year by year, bit by bit, and not as he, or his later biographers, want us to think of him.
— Tom D'Evelyn
Washington Post Book World
Praise for previous volumes: The collection, which can be dipped into as well as read as a whole, is a feast of language and insight.
— Arthur Kirsch
Books & Culture
Mendelson's introductions to each of the five installments so far of Auden's Complete Works have been unfailingly elegant and magisterial.
— Alan Jacobs
Magill Book Reviews
This scholarly collection, with its seventy pages of notes on variant readings, revives many interesting pieces as well as numerous others of interest mainly to academics.
— Larry Koenigsberg
The New York Review of Books
Prose, Volume III is wonderfully edited, like all the many editions of Auden supervised by Edward Mendelson. . . . Most of the articles will delight any reader with their wit. charm, and elegance.
— Charles Rosen
The Australian
In part the appeal of this volume derives from its author's aphoristic cast of mind, but more significant is the self-evident fact Auden was a poet first and a critic second: for all his love of lists and categories, his thought is always round, never linear. He is able to see, as only a poet can, that rules don't always apply, that they can sometimes be broken.
— Oliver Dennis
bookreviews.davidmarx.co.uk
This excellent tomb of a book is as academic as it is entertaining as it is informative as it is inspiring as it is (obviously) superbly well written. The only downside being, it ensures the literary bar is so highly placed, it ensures the rest of us can only ever negotiate coming close—if, with the exception of a selected few, such a thing is remotely possible.
— David Marx
The New York Review of Books - Charles Rosen
Prose, Volume III is wonderfully edited, like all the many editions of Auden supervised by Edward Mendelson. . . . Most of the articles will delight any reader with their wit. charm, and elegance.
Times Literary Supplement - Stefan Collini
[Auden's] versatility and spikily independent literary intelligence are frequently on display in Prose, Volume Three: 1949-1955, the most recent volume in the magnificent Complete Works.
London Review of Books - Frank Kermode
This latest installment of Edward Mendelson's edition of the Complete Works contains Auden's prose writings from a mere six years, roughly the poet's forties. It was preceded by two large volumes covering 1926 to 1938 and 1939 to 1948. The three total more than two thousand pages and there will have to be at least one more volume, covering the period between 1955 and Auden's death in 1973. When you add in the volumes already devoted to plays, libretti, poems, it becomes hard to avoid describing the whole enterprise as heroic. In fact it could also be described as unique, for no other 20th-century English poet has been so fully and patiently honoured.
Buffalo News - Jeff Simon
Few great and greatly prolific poets wrote as much irresistible and glorious prose as W.H. Auden but he was, by any assay, one of the greatest essayists and critics of the 20th century. And here we have Auden in his 40s, one of the greatest eras of Auden prose, the era of The Enchaféd Flood, and so many of the essays collected in The Dyer's Hand.
New York Sun - Eric Ormsby
With the fifth volume of his 'Complete Works' and the third of his prose out—with a fourth, and final volume promised—we can glimpse almost the full range of [Auden's] interests and his remarkable versatility...When Auden felt affinity with a subject, his prose could dazzle. His essay here on Oscar Wilde, 'A Playboy of the Western World: St. Oscar, the Hominterm Martyr,' is at once poignant and astute, as is his fine introduction to a selection of Edgar Allan Poe's writings. But the best essay may be 'Portrait of a Whig,' Auden's searching and affectionate study of the inimitable Sydney Smith (17711845).
The Australian - Oliver Dennis
In part the appeal of this volume derives from its author's aphoristic cast of mind, but more significant is the self-evident fact Auden was a poet first and a critic second: for all his love of lists and categories, his thought is always round, never linear. He is able to see, as only a poet can, that rules don't always apply, that they can sometimes be broken.
Books & Culture - Alan Jacobs
Mendelson's introductions to each of the five installments so far of Auden's Complete Works have been unfailingly elegant and magisterial.
Magill Book Reviews - Larry Koenigsberg
This scholarly collection, with its seventy pages of notes on variant readings, revives many interesting pieces as well as numerous others of interest mainly to academics.
bookreviews.davidmarx.co.uk - David Marx
This excellent tomb of a book is as academic as it is entertaining as it is informative as it is inspiring as it is (obviously) superbly well written. The only downside being, it ensures the literary bar is so highly placed, it ensures the rest of us can only ever negotiate coming close—if, with the exception of a selected few, such a thing is remotely possible.
Times Literary Supplement - Peter MacDonald
Praise for previous edition: To have found and contextualized the material collected in this second volume of Auden's prose is a magnificent achievement, and Edward Mendelson's immaculately handled edition will be a scholarly resource of a permanent kind.
Boston Book Review - Tom D'Evelyn
Praise for previous edition: The Complete Works, edited with elegant scruple by Auden's literary executor Edward Mendelson is . . . the only way to get at Auden as he happened, year by year, bit by bit, and not as he, or his later biographers, want us to think of him.
Washington Post Book World - Arthur Kirsch
Praise for previous edition: The collection, which can be dipped into as well as read as a whole, is a feast of language and insight.
From the Publisher
"Prose, Volume III is wonderfully edited, like all the many editions of Auden supervised by Edward Mendelson. . . . Most of the articles will delight any reader with their wit. charm, and elegance."—Charles Rosen, The New York Review of Books

"[Auden's] versatility and spikily independent literary intelligence are frequently on display in Prose, Volume Three: 1949-1955, the most recent volume in the magnificent Complete Works."—Stefan Collini, Times Literary Supplement

"This latest installment of Edward Mendelson's edition of the Complete Works contains Auden's prose writings from a mere six years, roughly the poet's forties. It was preceded by two large volumes covering 1926 to 1938 and 1939 to 1948. The three total more than two thousand pages and there will have to be at least one more volume, covering the period between 1955 and Auden's death in 1973. When you add in the volumes already devoted to plays, libretti, poems, it becomes hard to avoid describing the whole enterprise as heroic. In fact it could also be described as unique, for no other 20th-century English poet has been so fully and patiently honoured."—Frank Kermode, London Review of Books

"This third volume of his complete prose is the best yet...Here is the ambitious set of lectures published as The Enchafd Flood, about the Romantic hero and the sea, in Melville, Baudelaire and (taken with entire seriousness) Edward Lear. Here are the influential reviews of Tolkien and the introductions to first books by Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery.... No major writer's complete works are more fun to read."Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Few great and greatly prolific poets wrote as much irresistible and glorious prose as W.H. Auden but he was, by any assay, one of the greatest essayists and critics of the 20th century. And here we have Auden in his 40s, one of the greatest eras of Auden prose, the era of The Enchaféd Flood, and so many of the essays collected in The Dyer's Hand."—Jeff Simon, Buffalo News

"With the fifth volume of his 'Complete Works' and the third of his prose out—with a fourth, and final volume promised—we can glimpse almost the full range of [Auden's] interests and his remarkable versatility...When Auden felt affinity with a subject, his prose could dazzle. His essay here on Oscar Wilde, 'A Playboy of the Western World: St. Oscar, the Hominterm Martyr,' is at once poignant and astute, as is his fine introduction to a selection of Edgar Allan Poe's writings. But the best essay may be 'Portrait of a Whig,' Auden's searching and affectionate study of the inimitable Sydney Smith (1771­1845)."—Eric Ormsby, New York Sun

"In part the appeal of this volume derives from its author's aphoristic cast of mind, but more significant is the self-evident fact Auden was a poet first and a critic second: for all his love of lists and categories, his thought is always round, never linear. He is able to see, as only a poet can, that rules don't always apply, that they can sometimes be broken."—Oliver Dennis, The Australian

Praise for previous volumes: "To have found and contextualized the material collected in this second volume of Auden's prose is a magnificent achievement, and Edward Mendelson's immaculately handled edition will be a scholarly resource of a permanent kind."—Peter MacDonald, Times Literary Supplement

Praise for previous volumes: "This essential volume in a projected complete edition restores the voracious reader and never pedantic critic to the master poet."Publisher's Weekly

Praise for previous volumes: "The Complete Works, edited with elegant scruple by Auden's literary executor Edward Mendelson is . . . the only way to get at Auden as he happened, year by year, bit by bit, and not as he, or his later biographers, want us to think of him."—Tom D'Evelyn, Boston Book Review

Praise for previous edition: The collection, which can be dipped into as well as read as a whole, is a feast of language and insight."—Arthur Kirsch, Washington Post Book World

"Mendelson's introductions to each of the five installments so far of Auden's Complete Works have been unfailingly elegant and magisterial."—Alan Jacobs, Books & Culture

"This scholarly collection, with its seventy pages of notes on variant readings, revives many interesting pieces as well as numerous others of interest mainly to academics."—Larry Koenigsberg, Magill Book Reviews

"This excellent tomb of a book is as academic as it is entertaining as it is informative as it is inspiring as it is (obviously) superbly well written. The only downside being, it ensures the literary bar is so highly placed, it ensures the rest of us can only ever negotiate coming close—if, with the exception of a selected few, such a thing is remotely possible."—David Marx, bookreviews.davidmarx.co.uk

Publishers Weekly

If Auden (1907-1973) had never written a line of verse, we would still remember him as a superb, entertaining, prolific critic, author of essays, reviews, whole books and stand-alone witticisms on poetry, fiction, Christian belief and history, classical music and opera. This third volume of his complete prose is the best yet: it covers years when he felt almost at home in America, writing comfortably and frequently for the New York Times, Partisan Review and other venues both middle- and high-brow, and branching away from the inward concerns of theology toward reviews and analyses of music and imaginative literature. Here is the ambitious set of lectures published as The Enchaféd Flood, about the Romantic hero and the sea, in Melville, Baudelaire and (taken with entire seriousness) Edward Lear. Here are the influential reviews of Tolkien and the introductions to first books by Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery. Here, too, are effective boosts for European and British prose (George Macdonald, Giovanni Verga); venturesome (only occasionally repetitive) generalizations about writing and reading poetry; comments on America in general ("a nation of amateurs"); and even an enthusiastic plan for a Yorkshire holiday. No major writer's complete works are more fun to read. (Dec.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

The third volume is Princeton's Auden project covers the author's numerous essays, reviews, lectures, and the complete text of his first prose book, The Enchafed Flood, as well as a number of rarities.


—Michael Rogers
School Library Journal

If Auden (1907-1973) had never written a line of verse, we would still remember him as a superb, entertaining, prolific critic, author of essays, reviews, whole books and stand-alone witticisms on poetry, fiction, Christian belief and history, classical music and opera. This third volume of his complete prose is the best yet: it covers years when he felt almost at home in America, writing comfortably and frequently for the New York Times, Partisan Review and other venues both middle- and high-brow, and branching away from the inward concerns of theology toward reviews and analyses of music and imaginative literature. Here is the ambitious set of lectures published as The Enchaféd Flood, about the Romantic hero and the sea, in Melville, Baudelaire and (taken with entire seriousness) Edward Lear. Here are the influential reviews of Tolkien and the introductions to first books by Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery. Here, too, are effective boosts for European and British prose (George Macdonald, Giovanni Verga); venturesome (only occasionally repetitive) generalizations about writing and reading poetry; comments on America in general ("a nation of amateurs"); and even an enthusiastic plan for a Yorkshire holiday. No major writer's complete works are more fun to read. (Dec.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691133263
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 1/3/2008
  • Series: Complete Works of W.H. Auden Series
  • Pages: 816
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 2.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Edward Mendelson is the literary executor of the Estate of W. H. Auden and the Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. His books include "Early Auden, Later Auden", and "The Things That Matter".
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Read an Excerpt

W. H. Auden Prose, Volume III, 1949-1955
By W. H. Auden Princeton University Press
Copyright © 2008
Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-13326-3


Introduction Auden wrote his prose so that he would be able to write his poems, and the benefits of writing prose were both financial and intellectual. In a letter written from Italy in 1955, he explained: "The winter months are those in which I earn enough dollars to allow me to live here in the summer and devote myself to the unprofitable occupation of writing poetry." During his winters in New York, punctuated by lecture tours and visiting professorships in American college towns, he wrote the commissioned essays and reviews that paid for his summers in Ischia. No matter what the nominal subject of those essays might be, he used them as exercises in which he explored whatever moral, intellectual, literary, or prosodic issues concerned him most in the poems he was writing or planning. During the late 1940s and early 1950s he wrote a sequence of poems largely about history, "Horae Canonicae", and another sequence largely about nature, "Bucolics". He developed the structure of ideas that holds them together by writing essays and reviews on the theme indicated by the title of one of them: "Nature, History and Poetry".

Auden enjoyed deflating romantic images of inspired poets driven only by their genius. He made a point of praising the bourgeois virtues-directly in his essays, indirectly in poems such as "Under Sirius","Cattivo Tempo", "Sext", and "Mountains". He also made a point of practicing those virtues. After agreeing to write an introduction or essay or review, he typically finished the job weeks or months ahead of his deadline. For an anthology of English poetry and a collection of Elizabethan verse and music he used original texts rather than later reprints, and was impatient with collaborators who were less responsible and punctual than he was. As a public lecturer he gave value for money with his lucid and substantial talks. During the early 1950s he finally outgrew his intermittent temptation to pose before academic audiences as a severe philosopher, and his prose style achieved the urbane, inclusive ease that it maintained for the rest of his career.

Before this, during Auden's first years in America from 1939 to around 1947, his work and thought had focused on lonely inward crises and existential choices of the kind he wrote about in his longer poems from "New Year Letter" in 1940 through The Age of Anxiety in 1944-46. In the later 1940s he began to seek a less narrow and intense approach to experience, and explored ways of thinking that were more social and collective, and more aware of the common world of the body. In the early 1940s he had found the structure of his thought in the work of Søren Kierkegaard. In 1955, while still acknowledging his debt to Kierkegaard, he pointed toward "what seems to be his great limitation, a limitation which characterizes Protestantism generally. A planetary visitor could read through the whole of his voluminous works without discovering that human beings are not ghosts but have bodies of flesh and blood."

Auden first visited Italy in 1948. For the next ten years he settled into a routine of summers in a rented house in Ischia and winters in an apartment in New York. He countered the urgent and severe Protestantism of his thought in the earlier 1940s with what he half-seriously called a "counter-Reformationary" Catholicism. His poem "In Praise of Limestone," written in 1948, was an emphatic hymn of praise to the human body and the Mediterranean landscapes in which it was most at home. During the next few years he wrote sympathetically about the differences between Italian and northern European societies and cultures, especially about the lucid fatalism of Giovanni Verga's fiction and the operas based on Verga's stories. Also in 1948 he resumed his earlier practice of collaboration with other writers and artists by inviting Chester Kallman to join him in writing the libretto for Igor Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress.

In the summer of 1948 he was invited by the University of Virginia to deliver the 1949 Page-Barbour Lectures, an endowed annual series that required the lecturer to publish his lectures as a book. (T. S. Eliot's Page-Barbour lectures for 1933 were published as After Strange Gods.) Auden chose for his subject the romantic and nineteenth-century image of the sea, and the contrary image of isolation, the desert, illustrated by examples from Wordsworth to Rimbaud. He titled the series (and the resulting book) The Enchafèd Flood: The Romantic Iconography of the Sea, after a fragment from Othello: "I never did like molestation view/ On the enchafèd flood." The underlying theme of his lectures was the myth of the heroic artist as a solitary voyager in the realm of consciousness, a potentially redemptive figure who finds new territories of experience that he reveals to an audience too timidly bourgeois to make such explorations for themselves. Auden had repeatedly been tempted by this myth in earlier years; his lectures served as a final exorcism of it.

The Enchafèd Flood is a backward-looking book, both in its implicit renunciations and in its explicit themes. Auden's survey of literary images of the sea and the desert arranges in systematic form the imagery of "The Sea and the Mirror", the long poem he wrote in 1942-44. All the sentences in the book are new, but the content restates much that Auden had written in essays and reviews earlier in the 1940s, notably his Kierkegaardian account of aesthetic, ethical, and religious authority and his readings of Don Quixote as a religious hero and of Melville's Ishmael as an explorer of possibility. The last pages of the book turn away from all that: "We live in a new age," he wrote, and his phrase refers both to public culture and to his private interests. This new age is one in which

the necessity of dogma is once more recognised, not as the contradiction of reason and feeling but as their ground and foundation, in which the heroic image is not the nomad wanderer through the desert or over the ocean, but the less exciting figure of the builder, who renews the ruined walls of the city.... We are less likely to be tempted by solitude into Promethean pride: we are far more likely to become cowards in the face of the tyrant who would compel us to lie in the service of the False City. It is not madness we need to flee but prostitution.

These new temptations became a recurring theme. Later in 1949 he contrasted the situation of nineteenth-century poets and that of his contemporaries: "The former were either admired or left alone; the latter are suspect, and the campaign to control them by bribes or threats is likely to intensify." He now began to write systematically about the ways in which poetry allowed itself to be tempted by these bribes and threats and the ways in which it might learn to resist them.

At the center of his thinking was his idea of history, a word he began using in 1949 in a special idiosyncratic sense. History, as he described it, was the realm of unique, voluntary, irreversible events that occur in linear time. Nature, in contrast, was the realm of recurring, involuntary, reversible events that occur in cyclical time. Human experience occurs in both these realms. Sexual desire is historical to the degree that it focuses on a unique person to the exclusion of all others, and natural to the degree that the instincts that drive it could equally be satisfied by almost anyone else.

The moral point of the distinction between nature and history was that public life, especially in a world increasingly dominated by the machine, tends to treat human beings in statistical and generalizing ways, as if they were predictable elements of the realm of nature. The impersonal power of government or the machine operates in the realm of nature, not history, and the reason that modern governments distrust the arts is that the arts are products of personal, historical choices. A work of art, no matter how much it owes to an anonymous cultural climate or literary tradition, bears witness to the historical realm of individual choices.

In 1951, when Auden was helping to prepare The Rake's Progress for its première, he applied these ideas in a series of essays on music. Music was the purest expression of "irreversible historicity" and of all that historicity implies about freedom and self-determination. "Every high C accurately struck utterly demolishes the theory that we are the irresponsible puppets of fate or chance." Auden's interest in music had always been inseparable from his curiosity about historical changes in theme and style. He and Kallman had adopted an eighteenth-century style for the libretto of The Rake's Progress; in 1952 they wrote another libretto in an even more archaic Tudor style, Delia, or A Masque of Night (which Stravinsky declined to set, having been introduced to the twelve-tone scale whose enthusiasts had declared it the style of the future). In 1953 Auden began collaborating with an early-music group, the New York Pro Musica, founded by Noah Greenberg, and at some of their concerts read the Tudor verses that the group then sang. These concerts issued in an anthology of words and music, An Elizabethan Song Book, with an introduction by Auden and Kallman and Greenberg's musical transcriptions.

For Auden, in many essays and reviews from the early 1950s, the great prophet of individual history was Sigmund Freud. Freud's greatness, Auden wrote, did not depend on the validity or cohesiveness of his theories-whose revolutionary significance Freud himself often failed to understand. "In fact, if every one of his theories should turn out to be false, Freud would still tower up as the genius who perceived that psychological events are not natural events but historical and that, therefore, psychology as distinct from neurology, must be based on the pre-suppositions and methodology, not of the biologist but of the historian."

Another name for individual historicity was the human face, the visible sign of uniqueness that was never exactly the same from one moment to the next, but was always a sign for the same individual person. In 1950 Auden wrote a poem, "Numbers and Faces", about the madness of those who prefer the statistical, anonymous world of numbers to the personal world of faces. The title and much of the content derived from a book written in 1919 by the Austrian thinker Rudolf Kassner, Zahl und Gesicht, which became central to Auden's thinking around 1950, although he seems to have encountered the book a few years earlier. (As a phrase, Kassner's title means quantity and quality; as separate words, die Zahl means number and das Gesicht means face or physiognomy.) As Kassner's "face" corresponded to Auden's "history", so Kassner's "number" corresponded to Auden's "nature".

Kassner used the term "Physiognomik" for his whole intellectual and moral enterprise, in which he contrasted, on one hand, unique individuality, finite human flesh, truth as something to be witnessed or exemplified, and, on the other, collective identity, indifferent fate, and truth as something impersonal that can be taught like a method. For Kassner this was the contrast between the Christian and classical worldviews, and Auden's poem "The Shield of Achilles" in 1952 portrayed a modern world of statistical impersonality shaped by the same worldview that shaped the fated cruelties of the Iliad.

Faces and persons are characterized by their uniqueness as themselves; they are not sets of more or less widely distributed qualities such as beauty, strength, intelligence, or wit. Only a person has a physiognomy; a set of qualities has none. The classical gods have qualities such as shrewdness or strength; the Christian God has a face. The distinction between persons and qualities is a theme that pervades Auden's poems in the early 1950s, and he spelled out the distinction in a review of George Santayana, who, he suggested, sometimes lost sight of the difference:

The natural human, or at least masculine, tendency, both in love and friendship, is to be attracted by qualities rather than persons. We like people not for what they are in themselves but because they are beautiful or rich or amusing, so if they lose their looks or their money or their wit, we lose our interest.... Plato, if I understand him rightly, took our romantic interest in qualities as his starting point and sought to show, by analysis, that on the temporal level it was self-defeating; if qualities, not persons, are what we want, then the proper place to look for them is in Heaven, among the Universals.

This is perhaps a generous reading of Socrates' report in the Symposium of what Diotima had told him about love; Auden privately referred to Plato as "a man of genius who's always wrong"-a view that emerged more visibly in Auden's later work.

To the degree that the modern artist resists the faceless impersonality of the machine, he is right to do so, but if his resistance is merely nostalgic, he may embrace the error that he hopes to escape. Auden borrowed from Henry Adams's Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres the distinction between the Dynamo and the Virgin, between the natural world of involuntary recurrent events and the historical world of voluntary unique events; but, Auden wrote, for Adams himself, and for many who shared Adams's nostalgia, the Virgin was not the source and protector of individual lives but another name for the anonymous and impersonal nature-goddess. As Auden wrote in his poem "Nocturne" around 1951, this goddess was not the unique historical Mary but the cyclical lunar Venus, "Whose majesty is but the mask / That hides a faceless dynamo." And in a paragraph published in 1962 but probably first written in the early 1950s:

Henry Adams thought that Venus and the Virgin of Chartres were the same persons. Actually, Venus is the Dynamo in disguise, a symbol for an impersonal natural force, and Adams' nostalgic preference for Chartres to Chicago was nothing but aestheticism; he thought the disguise was prettier than the reality, but it was the Dynamo he worshiped, not the Virgin.

Starting from the idea of historical uniqueness, Auden developed an elaborate vocabulary for different kinds of social order and for the analogous kinds of formal order that give shape to poems. Unique persons create different kinds of social order from those generated by impersonal forces. Historical individuals, Auden wrote, join into communities united by their shared voluntary love of something; a community is historical because it has no bureaucratic impersonal structure. Communities tend to create societies that can carry out their purposes; societies are natural, not historical, because they have a bureaucratic structure in which individual members have roles distinct from their unique personalities. A group of music-lovers is a community but its love accomplishes nothing; a string quartet is a society that puts into effect the community's love.

A crowd, unlike a society or community, is a mere plurality of things that happen to be together. "The subject matter of poetry", Auden wrote in 1949, "is a crowd of past historic occasions of feeling", some portion of which the poet hopes to convert into a community; but the poem in which that community is embodied is a society, something that the poet must assume will remain unchanged and eternal once it is written. Crowds of feelings are not especially dangerous; but in the real world the extreme version of the crowd was the Public, that faceless purposeless mass that anyone can join when one is no one in particular.

The Public has always existed, but one effect of the mass media is to make it easier than ever to be faceless and impersonal. The culture of celebrity is one result of the growth of the Public: "the public instinctively worships not great men of action or thought but actors, individuals who by profession are not themselves." The moral consequences are all too clear: "The public, therefore, can be persuaded to do or believe anything by those who know how to manage it. It will subscribe thousands of dollars to a cancer research fund or massacre Jews with equal readiness, not because it wants to do either, but because it has no alternative game to suggest."

(Continues...)



Excerpted from W. H. Auden by W. H. Auden
Copyright © 2008 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Acknowledgements xi
Introduction xiii
The Text of This Edition xxxv

THE ENCHAFÈD FLOOD The Enchafèd Flood 1

ESSAYS AND REVIEWS, 1949-1955

A Note on Graham Greene 95
In Memoriam [Theodore Spencer] 96
Port and Nuts with the Eliots 97
The Question of the Pound Award 101
Introductions to Poets of the English Language 103
Sixty-Six Sestets 154
Notebooks of Somerset Maugham 156
Firbank Revisited 159
Nature, History and Poetry [1949] 161
Then and Now: 1935-1950 164
Jean Cocteau 168
Religion and the Intellectuals: A Symposium 170
Introduction to Red Ribbon on a White Horse, by Anzia Yezierska 177
A Playboy of the Western World: St Oscar, the Homintern Martyr 184
Of Poetry in Troubled Greece 188
A Guidebook for All Good Counter-Revolutionaries 190
The Score and Scale of Berlioz 193
The Things Which Are Caesar's 196
A That There Sort of Writer 210
Introduction to Selected Prose and Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe 215
Foreword to A Change of World, by Adrienne Cecile Rich 224
Nature, History and Poetry [1950] 226
Young Boswell 233
Some December Books Chosen for the Trade Book Clinic 237
In an Age Like Ours, the Artist Works in a State of Siege 240
Aeneid for Our Time 242
Address to the Indian Congress for Cultural Freedom 246
Some Reflections on Opera as a Medium 250
The Philosophy of a Lunatic 255
Eliot on Eliot 257
Foreword to A Mask for Janus, by W. S. Merwin 259
Keats in His Letters 262
A Review of Short Novels of Colette 267
The World That Books Have Made 270
Portrait of a Whig 273
Introduction to The Living Thoughts of Kierkegaard 285
Some Reflections on Music and Opera 296
The Adult Voice of America 302
While the Oboes Came Up, the Bagpipes Went Down 305
Notes on the Comic 307
Our Italy 319
[Hic et Ille] 323
Keeping the Oriflamme Burning 335
Sigmund Freud 340
Foreword to Various Jangling Keys, by Edgar Bogardus 344
Foreword to The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole, by Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo 347
The Rake's Progress 351
T. S. Eliot So Far 352
Two Sides to a Thorny Problem 356
Cav & Pag 358
Through the Collar-Bone of a Hare 364
Transplanted Englishman Views U.S. 369
Verga's Place 374
Zahl und Gesicht 377
Huck and Oliver 378
Selected Essays of T. S. Eliot 382
The Greatness of Freud 385
Translation and Tradition 388
Speaking of Books 391
Ballet's Present Eden 393
Foreword to An Armada of Thirty Whales, by Daniel G. Hoffman 396
Words and Music 399
A Message from W. H. Auden [on Dylan Thomas] 407
A Contemporary Epic 407
The Man Who Wrote Alice 413
Handbook to Antiquity 416
A Consciousness of Reality 419
The Word and the Machine 425
A European View of Peace 427
England: Six Unexpected Days 431
Introduction to An Elizabethan Song Book, by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman 435
Balaam and the Ass 444
The Freud-Fliess Letters 472
Introduction to The Visionary Novels of George Macdonald 477
How Cruel Is April? 481
Holding the Mirror Up to History 483
The Hero Is a Hobbit 489
A World Imaginary, but Real 491
The Private Diaries of Stendhal (1801-1814) 494
Fog in the Mediterranean 498
The Pool of Narcissus 502
Introduction to The Faber Book of Modern American Verse 506
"I Am of Ireland" 514
[A Tribute to Paul Claudel] 521
Authority in America 521
Am I That I Am? 527
Man before Myth 532
The Dyer's Hand 536
Qui é l'uom’ felice 569
Speaking of Books 571
[Contribution to Modern Canterbury Pilgrims] 573
Foreword to Some Trees, by John Ashbery 580
Bile and Brotherhood 584
L'Homme d'Esprit 590
The History of an Historian 596
A Self-Policing People 602
Reflections on The Magic Flute 604
Putting It in English 609

ADDENDA TO PROSE II
E. M. Forster 613
A Lecture in a College Course 614
An Endorsement 614

APPENDICES
I Record Sleeves and Program Notes 617
II Auden as Anthologist and Editor 622
III Public Lectures and Courses 636
IV Endorsements and Citations 674
V Auden on the Air 675
VI Public Letters Signed by Auden and Others 694
VII Lost and Unwritten Work 698

TEXTUAL NOTES
The Enchafèd Flood 703
Essays and Reviews, 1949-1955 708

Index of Titles and Books Reviewed 777

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