A copy of Auden's very rare first book, Poems (1928), was sold at Sotheby's, New York, on 30 April 1990, during the auction of the princely bibliophile H. Bradley Martin's library. It was a presentation copy, inscribed to Cecil Day Lewis with the words "To [`Rex' is deleted] Cecil with love from the Author." and, below that, "Dangerous: does / Set dancing blood." There are autograph corrections to the printed text in both Auden's and Spender's hands; all these changes are also present in other copies of the book. Sotheby's estimate was $20,000 to $30,000, but because this copy was in extremely fragile condition and the front cover thus became detached from the whole during pre-sale inspections by the public, the eventual selling price was a relatively low $17,000. The buyer was a Baltimore bookdealer going under the name of "The 19th Century Shop." Rumor reports that the copy is destined for a library of modern poetry now being planned by a prosperous collector.
Everyone knows stories about the domestic chaos: the dusty oceans of loose papers, the jelly jars that doubled (or rather trebled) as candlesticks and martini glasses, the curtains that, when touched, fell to the ground. In the city that was his main base for 33 years, Auden relics--mislaid long ago, or just discarded by their owner--continue to surface in the most extraordinary places. Just before we went to press, the Newsletter's Manhattan correspondent was riding the subway to work, when, browsing through the New York Post over somebody's shoulder, he noticed that the gossip columnist, Cindy Adams, had unleashed a little Auden exclusive. Our correspondent alighted and, for scholarship's sake, bought a copy of the paper.
Cindy reports that the current tenant of Auden's and Kallman's apartment at 77 St Mark's Place, Mr Ed Cachianes, was doing some redecorating when, "loosening some plaster in a closet, out fell a cache of stuff." The Newsletter has not so far been able to obtain first-hand details of exactly what the "stuff" is, but Cindy says that the pickings include a driver's license, some "handwritten pages of poetry," and the playbill for a Polish ballet performed at the University of Michigan on which Auden made some rib-digging notes: "his soulful expression is just a bit unfortunate because he has buck teeth. . . . The piano is impossible. . . . He has a strange idea of bel canto. If he sings `I love life' I shall leave."
This is not the first time that one of Auden's old homes has yielded up treasure, and, if a remark recorded by Edmund Wilson in his The Fifties is any guide, it won't be the last. Wilson's gaze rose from contemplation of his gin one evening when Auden burst out with: "I hate living in squalor--I detest it!--but I can't do the work I want to do and live any other way."
The Newsletter records with great sadness the death at her home in Manhattan on 30 March 1990 of Lola L. Szladits, curator of the New York Public Library's Berg Collection of English and American Literature.
Dr Szladits was born in Budapest on 11 March 1923, and earned a doctorate in Hungary before she emigrated to the United States in 1950. In 1955 she joined the staff of the New York Public Library, and in 1969 was appointed curator of the Berg Collection, already one of the world's major archives of 19th and 20th century literature. Over the next twenty years, at a time when large quantities of manuscript material were becoming available, this reserved and sometimes forbidding woman greatly enriched and enlarged the Collection using all her powers of intelligence, tenacity, and discretion.
The Collection as a whole is a monument to her, reflecting a generous dedication to giants like Whitman and Yeats, and to lonelier figures like Ronald Firbank. However, readers of this Newsletter will particularly want to remember her immense, and still unreckonable, contribution to the understanding of Auden's work. The Berg Collection contains a huge cache of fair copies, notebooks, drafts, letters, and jottings by the poet. Dr Szladits built this up not from a few swooping bulk purchases but from a steady level of activity; she thought of Auden as a major writer worthy of her time and the library's money, and she acted on that belief. Indeed, so impressive are the holdings she amassed that the Berg has now become the most important Auden archive in the world, and arguably the logical choice for anyone wishing to deposit Auden papers in a library.
Even during Dr Szladits' illness, the Auden collection in the Berg continued to grow. It is fair to say that its contours have not yet been fully mapped, nor its riches explored. As the edition of Auden's Complete Works gets underway, the value of her curatorial achievement will become clearer to us. Yet it will be easy to forget that, besides scholarship and institutional muscle, she brought to bear many other essential forces, ones that were tremendously useful in dealing with the "eccentrics and the silent walkers" in Auden's circle. She was the human bridge between the world where a friend's letter lies mouldering in a drawer and the world where it rests smoothed and stabilized in an air-conditioned vault. She could be tough as a bull when it was necessary, but--though she seemed occasionally to want to conceal it--she was also flexible and unprejudiced. Dr Szladits was capable of instilling in a greedy manuscript-hawker an awed sense of their responsibility to civilization, but she was also someone who could sit down in the small office she shared with her assistants and, at the centre of a web of alarms and barriers, light up a cigarette and chat away on the phone with friends and bookdealers.
The role of curator calls for large measures of self-suppression, and this, at times, cannot have been easy for her. Dr Szladits' aim, though, was unwavering and impersonal. She once explained her attitude to an interviewer: "We protect the word at the Berg. It is a research collection, not a museum. It has to be used. It is alive. My role at the Berg is to stand still and allow the collection to grow. In fact, I try to make time itself stand still here. I try to create quiet and the timelessness that allows for the pursuit of truth." Sitting at one of the enormous glass-topped desks in the Reading Room and turning page after page of Auden's notebooks, I often heard Dr Szladits' voice murmuring behind the double oak doors of her office. The sound always carried with it a subtle but fortifying sense of support: she never probed or enquired, she simply provided whatever she could to help. This positive influence will continue to be felt by many researchers, although there is now more than just wood separating us from its source.
The Newsletter also regretfully records the death on 17 June 1990 at Southampton, Long Island, of Auden's friend and colleague Professor Wendell Stacy Johnson.
Professor Johnson was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1927. He graduated and then received a doctorate from Ohio State University. From 1962 until 1990 he was a professor of English at Hunter College in New York. His special field was 19th and 20th century English literature and his publications include Sex and Marriage in Victorian Poetry (1975), and W.H. Auden (1990), a memoir that will be reviewed in a future issue of the Newsletter.
Auden met Johnson in the spring of 1953 when he went as a Visiting Lecturer to Smith College where Johnson was a junior faculty member. Shortly before his death Professor Johnson donated Auden's letters to him to the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. The correspondence is an important source of information about Auden's literary attitudes in the mid-Fifties, and contains rare explanations of some of the hybrid metrical patterns he was then working out for his poetry. "Plains" from the "Bucolics" cycle is dedicated to Wendell Johnson, and one of the letters now in the Berg Collection gives previously unknown details about the genesis of the accompanying "Streams."
Alan Bennett. Poetry in Motion. Channel 4 (U.K.), 27 June 1990.
Alan Bennett's mini-lecture on Auden, in his oddly-titled TV series Poetry in Motion, was a lost opportunity. We had hoped for a laconically illuminating analysis of the life and works: in vain. After all, Bennett poses as the plain man with a liking for poetry: here was his chance to present a truly virgin view. What we got was second-hand stuff out of Carpenter and Osborne; even the two supposedly original remarks were uninspired. Bennett looked fully uncomfortable with Auden, and admitted to feeling so. In the main, he owned, he had no idea what the poetry was on about, though he suspected that Auden was a great poet: how candid, how refreshing, how cowardly. He was quick to seize on Isherwood's hoary remark that Auden often made his poems out of patchwork pieces, the leftover lines that Isherwood liked. Bennett observed: more writers have worked like that, Shakespeare included, than is generally admitted, and at least, it puts literary criticism in its place." It does nothing of the kind; it merely creates a last refuge for the lazy-minded. Auden himself had an answer which Bennett chose not to notice: "poems aren't written in code by an expert, although some poems are more difficult than others. Poems mean what they say!"
Everything in this talk was shallow and inconsequential; even when it looked as though Bennett would develop a point, any possible argument was dropped with a gesture. The older Auden was embarrassed by the political positions he had taken in the 1930s, Bennett duly noted; and while implying that he agreed with the embarrassment, he scurried away from the problem with an unexamined statement: "the poetry of that younger self survives the embarrassment." To his credit, Bennett did defend Auden against those who would lambaste him for going off to the USA in 1939.
What it amounted to was a very short poetry reading interspersed with a handful of anecdotes: dull, stale, flat and unprofitable. Since Bennett feels little for Auden, his choice of poems was more or less inevitable, a reach-me-down list of what Auden called "warhorses" including "On This Island", "Musée des Beaux Arts", "In Memory of W.B. Yeats", and "September 1, 1939"--the last of which Auden later called "unauthentic", explaining: "It's not my handwriting and it's a forgery. I might add here that truth in poetry is very important to me." It is not at all clear to me whether Bennett liked the poems he read or simply thought them more or less representative; either way, he made them all sound drab and defeated. Nor is it clear to me why he bothered to tackle Auden at all; why not Edward Thomas for preference, if he had to set up a six-part series?
Clive James once said more in one sentence than Bennett managed in half an hour: "the apparent abstractness of Auden's expressed sensuality is really a lyricism of uniquely abundant resonance, and . . . Auden's artistic career, taken as a whole, is a triumph of the moral self living out its ideal progress as a work of art." Bennett had little to say about Auden's struggle for moral integrity; one hopes he "can tell a bacchic from a choriamb." But what we missed most of all was the opportunity for Bennett to address (as he is one of the few writers who could well address) the challenge of another Auden remark which he failed even to notice: "Really, I think of myself as a comic poet. I always try to make jokes."
I have no rivals in my admiration for Alan Bennett's work in general, but this little episode is best forgotten--as the Downs School might have said.
Oxford Theatre Group's production of The Dog Beneath the Skin at Leeds Polytechnic, December 1989.
The recently published and admirably edited volume of Auden's and Isherwood's plays gives us a fascinating record of the uncertain genesis of this complex, sometimes brilliant, but on the whole not very satisfactory play. The choruses stand among Auden's finest writing and establish the background to the allegory. The Witnesses, of whom little is heard after their first thrillingly forbidding contribution, suggest a deeper level of comment than Auden seems to have been able to sustain or to incorporate into the action. There is a lack of development in the satirical scenes that form the bulk of the play while the conclusion, of which the authors wrote several versions, remains unsatisfactory. The allegory can end satisfactorily in narrative terms when Alan Norman sheds his dog's skin and tells the people of Pressan Ambo that he wanted to take a dog's view of society, but this doesn't suffice theatrically. The problem is the same with The Dance of Death. One can liquidate the bourgeoisie in so many words but in the theatre one must find an equivalent action. Yet the play is rich in superb poetry, savage satire, witty cabaret-style songs and doggerel verse--an effective theatrical language.
I emphasise the unevenness of the play--a problem that, I recall, exercised the producers of the original production--because it was a triumph of Kate Hainsworth's production for the Oxford Theatre Group to have imposed a kind of stylistic consistency and theatrical logic on the play. Her choreographic framework, her use of music, the witty cabaret-style manner in which she handled the satirical scenes, the visual references to Picasso, and a subtle updating which made it hard to remember that the play was written 50 years ago--all this was admirable and far more successful than the use of masks in the first production. A cast of four immensely versatile young players, each taking a number of roles, far from stretching one's credibility helped the unity of the production.
Such an approach to the play, however, while providing a highly entertaining evening, did not solve all the problems of the text. Kate Hainsworth gave less than their due to the choruses and Witnesses and so sidestepped the deeper commentary on the European scene in which the real value of the play is to be found. The invention of the production was admirable, the irreverence refreshing, the vitality splendid, but the play is a little more sombre than Ms Hainsworth gave us to believe. If this very intelligent and extremely versatile group could face some of the deeper, though unresolved problems posed by Auden and Isherwood in this play by achieving the integration of various literary and theatrical forms, they could make a considerable contribution to verse drama, which has been in decline in England since Auden's memorable innovations of the 1930s.
John Allen was a member of the Group Theatre in the 1930s and acted in the first performances of The Dance of Death and The Dog Beneath the Skin.
With reference to Professor Martin's query about "A Bride in the 30's", "pansy" in those days was slang--especially schoolboy slang--for "smart", no more. I am sure that all Auden meant was "the new smart railway", and that his original readers understood it that way. Presumably, when he later realised that the word was acquiring inappropriate overtones, he made the alteration which, as with so much of his later tinkering, was not for the better.
The Coach House, Munslow, near Craven Arms,
Shropshire SY7 9ET, England
John Whitehead's impressive discovery of a new Auden poem, "The Border", disguised as the opening paragraph of The Lawless Roads, opens the possibility that the poet wrote not just the Mexican travel book, but also some of the novels published under the same pseudonym, "Graham Greene". Here, for example, is a paragraph from Brighton Rock (1939):
The advertisements trailed along the arterial road:
Bungalows and a broken farm, short chalky grass
Where a hoarding had been pulled down,
A windmill offering tea and lemonade,
The great ruined sails gaping.
And this from The End of the Affair (1951):
How can I disinter
The human characters from the heavy scene . . .
The daily newspaper, the daily meal,
The traffic grinding towards Battersea,
The gulls coming up the Thames looking for bread,
And the early summer of 1939
Glinting on the park where the children sailed their boats--
One of those bright condemned pre-war summers.
One misses the fluent swell of the rhythms in such poems as "August for the People" or "The Malverns", and the detail is less sharp, the wording less memorable, but the sensibility is indubitably Audenesque, carefully adapted to its role in narrative fiction.
Interestingly, other commentators (whose nerve perhaps failed at the last moment?) have hovered on the verge of making Whitehead's discovery. Richard Hoggart touched on it when he remarked that "Greene uses the selectively typical catalogue as much as Auden, partly because . . . they both began to write in the Thirties when reportage made the catalogue very popular." (Speaking to Each Other (1970) Vol. 2, p. 46). And Bernard Bergonzi in his perceptive book Reading the Thirties (1978) got even nearer when he entitled one chapter "Auden/Greene", from which I have extracted the above trouvées.
The question though remains: does Whitehead's proposal go far enough? Since 1973, several more novels have been published by "Graham Greene", which suggests not at all that W.H. Auden pseudonymously published the earlier novels and travel books, but that there is a still unknown Third Author responsible for both oeuvres. One remembers the repeated refusal of "Graham Greene" to be filmed for TV interviews, save occasionally his hands, a moving pointer to the way both novels and poems actually get written. But whose hands are they?
Department of Literature, The Open University, Walton Hall,
Milton Keynes MK7 6AA, England
Little is known of Auden in this country outside the various university Departments of English. A translation of some of his poems is, however, available (Poésies Choisies trans. Jean Lambert, Paris, Gallimard, 1976). As far as I know, France has only two scholars working on Auden. Philip Lahey's unpublished doctoral thesis deals with Auden's religious poetry after 1940 and he has also written a series of articles on "Horae Canonicae" and The Prolific and the Devourer. His book on Auden's religious poetry will be published later this year. Pascal Aquien's doctoral thesis dealt with Auden's post-1948 poetry. He has published articles on Poems 1928 and Auden's theatre as well as one entitled "W.H. Auden: Nostalgie de l'Eden et apocalypse du moi", and is now writing a comprehensive study of Auden's poetry. Lahey and Aquien are, respectively, at the Université de Tours and the Université d'Amiens.
British writers of the 1930s who have received scholarly attention in France include Christopher Caudwell, David Gascoyne, Christopher Isherwood, Harold Laski, Stephen Spender and Dylan Thomas. George Orwell is particularly popular while my own chief interest is in Louis MacNeice. Claude Jolicoeur edits Les Années Trente, a lively review published by the Université de Nantes and closely related to the Société d'Etudes Anglaises Contemparaines. There is also a very lively Groupe d'Etudes et de Recherches Britanniques at the Université de Bordeaux 3, known for its interest in modern and contemporary British poetry.
I would be happy to provide further information and answer any query from members of The W.H. Auden Society.
Université Lumière-Lyon 2, 1 route de Saint-Antoine,
69380 Chazay d'Azergues, France
Like any conscientious scholar, Edward Mendelson began hearing doubts and murmurs about the quality of his work long before the first review of his edition of Auden's Plays and other Dramatic Writings 1928-1938 showed up in print. In October 1988 in the London Review of Books, Mendelson paused towards the end of a summary of the blood-feud between Hans Walter Gabler and John Kidd and snapped up a blind in his workshop window. "Every editor," he wrote, "needs an inner Gabler and an inner Kidd to make his life difficult by arguing against all his decisions and insuring that he doesn't suppress one version of the author in favour of another. . . . Now that I've sent back the final proofs [of the Plays], I wake to the loud complaints of one or the other, each insisting that it speaks for the absent author, each insisting that the other be banished from the main text in the front of the edition to the wilderness of notes and appendices in the back."
The first public comments on his labours came in the New York Times in December 1988, and, at the time of writing, the latest had surfaced in Theatre Journal this March. Browsing through the feathery heap of clippings, where many challenging and carefully-pondered reviews--fastidious alignments with " `Brecht' " in the Times Literary Supplement and Samson-like deconstructions in the London Review of Books--are interleaved with economy models (six parts praise and one judicious qualification) from journals like the Memphis Commercial Appeal and the Bookazine Bulletin, one sees that Professor Mendelson's harshest critics, by far, were Professor Mendelson's inner voices.
This volume of Plays is, of course, the first in his quadripartite edition of The Complete Works of W. H. Auden, to be published in the U.S. by Princeton University Press, and in Britain by Faber and Faber. For anyone with an interest in Auden, it is an undertaking of tremendous significance, one that should make apparent not only the imposing bulk of Auden's achievement, but also--what is still perhaps partially obscure--the dimensions, intricacy, and general beauty of the edifice. It was, therefore, vital for the authority of the succeeding volumes (which, like this one, will contain much unfamiliar material), that the series get under way with a general sense of acceptance and admiration not just for Auden, but for Mendelson too.
And that is just what happened. From the thirties-red of the binding cloth to the exposition of editorial principles inside, no one found much to regret. Even John Whitehead, who has in the past emitted some blasts of cold Scottish air over Mendelson's textual decisions, began his review in Essays in Criticism by praising the "masterful but now mellowed editorship," and he beckoned timid readers out onto the heather with the assurance that they would have the "comforting feel of firm ground under their feet."
To assemble, sift, and order so much material was a gigantic task, and this fact was reflected in the honourable refusals of several prominent writers in the States to undertake a review of the book. (An adequate appraisal of the edition would, they said, have involved too much time.) This may, in part, explain why the Plays have received such remarkably scant attention from the high-brow magazines in Auden's adopted country. To date, neither the New York Review of Books, to which Auden was an early and prolific contributor, nor the New Yorker, which printed him regularly from 1939 until 1974, has mentioned the book. Indeed, two of the most substantive comments in the States came from transplanted Englishmen: John Gross in the New York Times and Thom Gunn in the Los Angeles Times. The apparently healthy stack of US reviews conceals the truth that one or two big-shots' responses, cut down and then blasted nationwide via the syndication wires, fell as a shower of filler for the hundred white spaces between reports from the local dog show and a chart of hemispheric isobars.
The paucity of response in the States is also, no doubt, a consequence of the "English" flavour of a volume filled with prep-school joking and period obsessions. Stan Smith in his stimulating reading of the plays in the London Review of Books established in detail how closely they are linked to the agonies of pre-War England: "it is the bankruptcy, the superannuation, the imperial nudity, the refusal to be frank or earnest, which demands our anger and contempt." These are not popular themes in the States at the moment. However, in her review in the New Republic, Sara Mosle diagnosed this barely-broken silence from the literary and academic worlds as a sign of something more disturbing. She suggested that the quantity and variety of Auden's writings are off-putting in themselves: "Auden isn't really read, not in his entirety certainly, nor even that enthusiastically in his various parts." If correct, it is a perception that offers little hope for the forthcoming editions. When people can't get through The Dog Beneath The Skin without their smiles fading into grim pleats, what elasticated scowl will be in reserve for those long forties essays on Kierkegaard?
Overall, the points that were not made turned out to be almost as interesting as the ones that were. Most surprising, perhaps, was the lack of comment on the "changed" ending of what was generally agreed to be the most successful play, The Dog Beneath the Skin. This involved the substitution of a new last scene, thus dropping the Vicar's Sermon, and altering the play's moral tenor. Mendelson, clearly expecting the decision to be controversial, had constructed a very elaborate and cogent defense of his decision in the "wilderness" of notes, only to have the issue greeted almost everywhere (Ms Mosle was an exception) with an apparently oblivious round of applause.
Perhaps because this volume is appearing as the first component of Auden's Complete Works, the plays were often treated not as dramatic entities but essentially as an adjunct to Auden's poetry, a kind of popularizing guide to the subtleties of the verse. Few reviewers expressed a desire to see any of the works on display here performed, though Anthony Curtis in the Financial Times did appeal to the National Theatre to revive Dogskin. (Small chance it seems, though the Royal Shakespeare Company once had an option on it, and was considering it as a Broadway follow-up to Nicholas Nickleby.) If people are not anxious to see the plays on stage, this must in part be due to the problematic, fractured, inconsistent form of almost every piece; each seems uncomfortably to aspire to the condition of another genre; Dogskin, for instance, to life as a musical, F6 to becoming a radio play.
Another of the striking facts about the critical responses to the Plays on both sides of the Atlantic is the degree of consensus--not to say repetitiveness of opinion--they evoked. The same points occurred again and again. There was, for instance, the Silliness Question. Thom Gunn charitably summed up a great many reviewers' reactions when he said that, "Auden was always a virtuoso, something of a showoff--and it is a pleasure to watch him showing off." (Almost every commentator then went on to make a point of noting that shards of great poetry lay buried beneath the buffoonery.) Peter Ackroyd in the London Times opined that the plays offer a chance to see "a truly avant-garde aesthetic being effortlessly combined with political satire and a kind of giggling camp." And Lucy McDiarmid, in the course of an excellent piece scheduled to appear in the Yale Review felt that the "highjinks dull the edge of ideology."
Many of the less harried reviewers (whose articles tended to come out later and lengthier) elevated this flux of tone and purpose into a Brecht Comparison. In a few cases, perching on a little cloud of similarities and coincidences (Berlin, social satire, collapsing theatrical conventions, etc.), it came over as a bad botching of a very serious point. In 1966, Auden himself claimed that to find evidence of Brechtian influence in his dramas would be "very wrong," and, actually, many seemed to agree with him: the idea was squelched by Peter Porter on Radio 3 ("The ratio is 9 parts Gilbert & Sullivan to 1 part German Expressionism") and judiciously eliminated by Michael Wood in his TLS piece ("The influence is less interesting than the convergence"). Nevertheless, this comparison is clearly a way of refining our sense of the work that Auden and Isherwood produced together, and many writers seized on the points of similarity and difference to pursue one of the perennial problems in Auden criticism: tone.
The difficulty that many people have with Auden today is basically the same one that has been dogging him--or perhaps one should say dogging his admirers--ever since Leavis first attacked him in Scrutiny for having an "undergraduate" mind. The difficulty is the whole not the parts. Critics grope for words to deal adequately with his seriousness or his unseriousness, his serious unseriousness, or his unserious seriousness, or whatever it really is.
Several of the best reviews of the Plays, defended the fragmentary quality of the works as carefully-martialled assaults on bourgeois literary form (a point that becomes harder and harder to sustain as Auden's career advances). Smith, in the course of his suggestive article, claimed: "these plays seek by pastiche, parody, a deliberate travesty of established attitudes and discourses, to blow open the familiar expectations of realist dramaturgy. With Isherwood, he created a series of hybrids which turned theatrical conventions back on themselves, bringing them into confusion and discredit. In deconstructing the forms of drama, the plays deconstruct, too, the systems of power and authority upon which they are founded and which they express."
It was Sean French, though, writing in the New Statesman & Society, who had the acutest take on the formal problem as it is reflected in Auden and Isherwood's dramas. "Brecht broke down the theatrical barriers between play and audience in order to facilitate the didactic purpose," he said. "But Auden and Isherwood's deconstruction gradually extended to their own didactic role as well." From here, it was only a short distance to the drastic differences from Brecht: the lack of certainty the pair had about their political position, their vagueness, their eclecticism. "Politics," wrote Michael Wood, "which both authors came consciously to take as their topic, almost always functions as a metaphor for a violent and uncomprehended world which could just as easily be, which quite often is, psychological or domestic." There was somebody, for once, dead on.
W.H. Auden. Poems 1927-1929: A Photographic and Typographic Facsimile of the Original Notebook in the Berg Collection of English and American Literature. Edited by Patrick Lawlor with an Introduction by Nicholas Jenkins and a Foreword by Lola L. Szladits. 160 pp. The New York Public Library, $95.00.
Alan Ansen The Table Talk of W.H. Auden. Edited by Nicholas Jenkins with an Introduction by Richard Howard. 119pp. Sea Cliff Press, $95.00.
The ledger notebook which Auden used from 1927 to 1929 (and which on Christmas Eve 1949 he gave to his pupil, secretary, and friend Alan Ansen who later gave it to the Berg Collection) dates from the period of transition during which Auden is commonly said to have discovered his poetic voice. It contains fair copies of most of his first mature work: nearly all the poems for Poems (1928), and many for Poems (1930), including the lyrics for Paid on Both Sides which made up part of the latter volume. That Auden was aware of an important change occurring seems clear from the way he began in this notebook to record dates and places of composition at the foot of each poem. His new self-consciousness as a poet is re-emphasized by the title that he eventually wrote on a front page of the ledger "Poems May 1927 - March 1929". He was no longer sending off individual items to be published haphazardly in undergraduate magazines; he was now taking charge of the finished product of his work, finalizing it more carefully for publication, and considering it as a developing whole. Throughout the notebook, there are only handful of poems that he did not eventually publish in a form very close to the one surviving here.
The notebook helps us to see, among other things, that the emergence of Auden's characteristic early style was preceded by a period of retrospection during which he reviewed the work of his adolescence, choosing and preserving a few pieces. Some of these he may have considered to be his best work technically, or most uniquely in his own style, others may have had special personal significance. During the spring of 1927, he framed these selections into a long poem in parts which he called, for a time, "The Megalopsych". Eventually this was to become the untitled first poem in Poems (1928). He rearranged the sequence several times, and in the version in the Ansen notebook (surviving only as fragments), he added annotations and dates reaching back as early as 1923. This process of reviewing his past may have been connected to his decision that spring to send a group of poems to T.S. Eliot at Faber (he eventually received an encouraging rejection), but in any case, it seems to have clarified for him what he was all about as a poet.
Following the partial version of "The Megalopsych" in the Ansen notebook is a tantalizing aporia. A number of leaves are missing which probably held four additional parts of "The Megalopsych" and then perhaps drafts of the poems beginning "I chose this lean country" and "On the frontier at dawn getting down" as well as other items. (In all 55 leaves are torn or cut from the notebook; these probably contained drafts, false starts, or, possibly, fair copies given to friends, although no copies have so far been identified on paper exactly matching that in the notebook). In this aporia, apparently stretching through the months of June and July, a significant change occurred which can be traced in Poems (1928) and in drafts that Auden sent to friends. The next poems surviving in the notebook were written in August, one of the first being the now famous poem beginning "Who stands, the crux left of the watershed" in which Edward Mendelson has argued that Auden first discovered his poetic voice (Early Auden 32ff).
But the Ansen notebook also helps us to see that Auden did not really discover his voice in a single poem, and that his voice, which sounds so singular and so distinctively his own, was in fact a composite of many sounds and styles. Throughout his adolescence, Auden had apprenticed himself to a number of different poets, and gradually he learned to combine their styles within individual poems, amalgamating the voices of his many literary models into his own voice. His endless imitating of and borrowing from his literary predecessors developed not only his technique but also his poetic identity, made resonant by the assumed authority of the literary tradition to which he had discipled himself, at first unknowingly, in precisely the manner Eliot prescribed for the individual talent (Patrick Lawlor's annotations are extremely useful in identifying some of Auden's many sources). The ledger notebook begins with fragments, and as it progresses, Auden's work becomes increasingly unified, unsuitable models are more quickly abandoned, productive borrowings more fully absorbed and their origins more completely obscured, until near the end of the ledger a real change has occurred and a unity of style has been achieved. In this way, for instance, the missing poem beginning "I chose this lean country", which was modelled on the third part of Yeats's "The Tower" (published in The New Criterion that June) and which showed the influence also of Robert Graves's "Rocky Acres", reappears transformed as the apparently thoroughly "Audenesque" poem beginning "From scars where kestrels hover".
Nicholas Jenkins has provided a wide-ranging introduction, relating the facsimile notebook to the larger context of Auden's career, and giving details of its history. There appear to be some mistakes in Lawlor's transcription (for instance, in the poem beginning "Before this loved one" he has "Our mortgaged lands" for "On mortgaged lands"), but readers can easily see how difficult Auden's notorious handwriting really is, since they have the excellent photographic facsimile interleaved with the transcription. This interleaving is not entirely satisfactory and makes it a challenge to read the facsimile correctly, partly because folios are missing, and partly because Auden wrote on both sides of some but not all of them. Also, it seems a shame that the reader still has to flip back and forth through the volume since the annotations are placed at the back, even though the decision to interleave creates plenty of space for them underneath the transcriptions.
In his energetic and insightful introduction to The Table Talk of W. H. Auden, the poet and translator Richard Howard warns that the "splendours" of Auden's mind were "reserved for his poetry and literary criticism" and that his table talk must be dealt with cautiously: "we must not hold it against the poems". The temptation to ignore this advice will prove irresistible to many since nearly every page of these reported conversations (which took place between November 1946 and March 1948) offers a striking remark revealing of character, belief, taste, or literary intention. Perhaps of greatest relevance to the poems are the many statements on other artists--painters, musicians, novelists, and, above all, poets. Some readers will be surprised to learn "I don't dislike Wordsworth at all", others that Auden became disillusioned with Henry James when he read the Notebooks. There is a lot on Dante ("Dante isn't really a Christian writer. He's really the greatest poet") and on T.S. Eliot, the 20th century figure with whom Auden (partly because Eliot visited New York during this period) seemed most predisposed to compare himself and to argue ("But our poetry is the product of our feelings"). He was disappointed that his American students showed no interest in "Eliot's imitation of Dante" when they read the Four Quartets; he himself understood imitation as a central discipline for any poet, and one that should be undertaken thoughtfully: "Why don't imitators of Milton imitate the one really original element of his style, his syntax?" His terrific enthusiasm at the prospect of working with Stravinsky on The Rake's Progress comes rushing out along with a precis of his plan "to connect it with the seven deadly sins". And his comments on technique and especially on prosody are important.
The conversations are charged with a kind of mutual intellectual challenge. Ansen was well-read and was apparently studying hard all the time, arming himself with questions or comments on Auden's work or subjects he knew to be of interest. We get brilliant and boring Auden. His aphoristic turn of phrase, apparently natural, sometimes lends his remarks a tone of resounding authority, but some of what he says is horrifyingly backward, and many admirers may wish him never to have held or expressed certain of his more Edwardian views on women or on the relations between the classes. This points up the excellence of the Table Talk as a dynamic portrait: it presents the animate man, bristling with contradictions, full of genius and balderdash. Ansen's memory seems convincing enough to rely on, even though the text is clearly not a strict recording. It leaps and skips to the thrilling or the revealing; it is a heady, exhilarating, and sometimes maddening read. It's clear from the movement of Auden's talk that Ansen didn't record everything he himself said; he has kept his own role minor, although he takes obvious pleasure in being able to contribute his share to their more esoteric exchanges. Nicholas Jenkins, as an editor, is even less visible. Though a comparison with Ansen's notes in the Berg would surely show up the changes he has made in the text, none leaps out, and his annotations will be useful both to the beginner and the expert.
Both of these books are beautifully produced limited editions and will be attractive to collectors as well as important for scholars. The Notebook is available through the Publications Office, The New York Public Library, 5th Ave. at 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10018. Table Talk is available directly from the Sea Cliff Press, 14 Horatio St., New York, N.Y. 10014. The Press is offering a 20% discount to Auden Society Members. A trade edition of the Table Talk will be published in the late autumn by Ontario Review Press.
James Stern. The Hidden Damage. Chelsea Press, London, £17.95.
". . . between those who have seen and those who haven't, there is a gulf fixed which the spoken word cannot bridge." So ends James Stern's account of his visit to the American zone of Germany in 1945. His book now faces a still more difficult task--that of conveying to a readership born since the war the immediate impact of what, to us, is history.
Stern, with Auden, was recruited to the staff of the U.S. Bombing Survey. Their task was to interview randomly chosen German civilians about the effect of bombing on their lives while assessing them for truthfulness, friendliness and degree of Nazi sympathies. Some of the questions they had to ask were patently absurd; in cities ravaged by saturation bombing, survivors were formally asked if the bombing had disturbed their sleep!
Although the task undertaken by Stern and Auden was not predominantly military they were attached to the U.S. Army and provided with rank and uniform. Thus they were recognisably the conquerors in the land they had visited in their youth. This new experience forced them to re-assess their memories of pre-Nazi Germany in the light of the events that followed.
A major concern at the time was to discover evidence of German guilt and, where it was lacking, to induce it. The American zone exhibited posters of concentration camp victims with headlines asking "WHO IS GUILTY?" and, later, declaring "THIS TOWN IS GUILTY! YOU ARE GUILTY!" The faces of the crowds in response to this accusation were, Stern records, "silent masks". It is indeed hard to see what precise response the posters required. Later Stern concludes that "the feeling of guilt among Germans is so colossal they simply cannot face it, much less give it expression."
But the German experience was not merely of guilt but also of suffering; their losses were immense and many had to adjust to a defeat which had involved the destruction of their families, friends and homes. The conquerors were not immune from sensations of guilt and pity; in one of many anecdotes arousing complex reactions Stern describes a heavily pregnant girl to whom he gives a lift. She is making her way--partly on bicycle, partly on foot--from Rome to Frankfurt, determined to find her mother who will help her give birth. Stern knows that the city has been bombed out of recognition yet fails to dissuade her from her journey.
Also in Stern's account are interviews, both official and unofficial, with Germans of all shades of opinion. These range from the virulently pro-Nazi Red Cross nurse to the family of a student involved in anti-Hitler protests. The cost of opposition to the regime is made painfully clear; the student was beheaded and his family tortured--his sister had lost the sight of one eye.
Inevitably the experience is too wide and diverse to be absorbed. At the same time it does not claim to be complete; what we are offered is one man's view and the conditions and people he observes are used in part for the purposes of autobiographical investigation. None of the characters is delineated as clearly as Stern himself.
As readers we seek to find the complex easily defineable and there is a temptation to identify as conclusions the events placed last--Stern's eventual meeting with former Frankfurt acquaintances and the news of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. But conclusions are not so simple and the book as a whole offers no easy answers.
Similarly, if we read the book to learn more about Auden (here called Mervyn) we are disappointed of direct accounts-we do not even find the familiar caricature but someone who appears from time to time partly as a motive force and partly as a fellow witness. His reactions are rarely explored. If we wish to consider what effect this return journey to Germany had on him we must consider the evidence of what he saw and look again at his poems from The Age of Anxiety onwards. Stern offers us clues but no short-cut to understanding.
Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins, ed. W.H. Auden: "The Map of all My Youth"--Early Works, Friends and Influences. September 1990. Oxford University Press (Clarendon Press), £27.50. Volume 1 of Auden Studies. Includes six poems written in German by Auden in the early 1930s, a complete version of the early essay "Writing" and selections from Auden's letters to Stephen Spender and to E.R. Dodds and Mrs Dodds. Contributors include David Constantine, Valentine Cunningham, John Fuller, Naomi Mitchison, Julian Symons and Stan Smith. The next edition of the Newsletter will include a review of this volume.
Lucy McDiarmid. Auden's Apologies for Poetry. Princeton University Press, $24.95. An examination of Auden's developing attitude to poetry. Professor McDiarmid charts Auden's gradual change from a belief that art could work moral transformations to his insistent questioning of the role of poetry and his exploration of its inabilities.
Benjamin Britten. Spring Symphony. Polygram. A compact disc which also includes Cantata Academica and Hymn to St Cecilia. Soloists are Jennifer Vyvyan, Norma Proctor, Helen Watts, Peter Pears and Owen Brannigan.
Robert Craft, Small Craft Advisories: Critical Articles 1984-88. Thames and Hudson, U.K. £12.95, U.S. $19.95. Includes articles on Auden and Stephen Spender.
Peter Dickinson. Songcycles. Conifer. Includes three cycles of Auden settings. Soloists are Meriel Dickinson, Henry Herford, Martyn Hill, Marilyn Hill Smith. Peter Dickinson and Robin Bowman accompany.
Peter Dickinson. The Music of Lennox Berkeley. Thames Publishing, £15.95. Berkeley was the first composer to set Auden to music although the songs have not survived.
Charles Hobday. Edgell Rickword: A Poet at War. Carcanet, £16.95. A biography of the poet, critic and journalist who co-founded the Left Review.
Wendell Stacy Johnson. W. H. Auden. Continuum, $18.95. An introductory biographical and critical study.
Louis MacNeice. Selected Prose ed. Alan Heuser. Oxford University Press (Clarendon Press), £25.00. The second of two collections of MacNeice's prose writings.
Harold Norse. Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey. Morrow, $22.95. Memoir by one of Chester Kallman's friends containing extracts from Auden's letters and a few previously unknown details about Auden and Kallman in the early forties.
Clere Parsons. The Air Between. Cloudforms, £4.95. Parsons was Auden's contemporary at Oxford. He died in 1931, his only previous volume of poems being issued posthumously by Faber in 1932, in the same series as Auden's Poems 1930. This volume is available by post from CLOUD, 48 Biddlestone road, Heaton, Newcastle upon Tyne NE6 5SL, England. Purchasers from outside the U.K. should add £1.00 to the price to cover postage and packing.
The W.H. Auden Society welcomes new members. Annual subscriptions are as follows:
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