This issue of the Newsletter inaugurates a new series of contemporary poets talking about the influence Auden has had on their work. John Keats, struggling with ideas of fame and trying to formulate his own literary goals, concluded that "not a great name . . . but an enduring influence is what the poet should hope to achieve." It is a testimony to Auden's enormous achievement that he has been a primary influence on the best of the poets who have come after him. And how we understand Auden today, and will understand him in the years to come, depends largely on the way his work lives on in the writing of others.
Literary critics have much to say about the process of influence and are often most perceptive in spotting patterns of influence, but we rarely hear from writers themselves about how they think this process works, though there are thing that only they can tell us. In what ways is the younger writer conscious of the influence? How does that influence change over the years? With a poet whose work is as complex and varied as Auden's, there are other interesting questions to ask as well: which of the many different "Audens" has meant the most to other writers? What poems and periods of Auden's career have been most helpful to younger poets? In what ways did Auden clear poetic and intellectual space for poets of younger generations? What is the younger poet's sense of Auden's place within the world of poetry today? The answers that poets give to these questions-as in the wonderful responses below-help us see better both Auden's own work and the work of poets who have come after him, and are answers that no literary critic could provide.
In this issue we are lucky to hear from three prominent and talented poets: Richard Howard, J. D. McClatchy, and John Fuller. Each of these poets came to Auden from a different background and at different times (for instance, as Fuller points out, when he first read Auden, in the early fifties, there was no question of a "late Auden"), and each encounters and reanimates in his poetry a slightly different Auden. Each realizes, in a way that no one else could, a different potential in Auden's poetry. While all three poets have written critical work on Auden and individual poems that are direct homages to him, here for the first time they directly address the question of Auden's influence on their poetry.
N. H. C.
I began reading W. H. Auden in high school, and by college had made the Random House Collected Poetry (1945) a sort of pillow-book; any attempt to write poems of my own remained a nugatory process; I could not get Mr. W. H. off my back. It was not until Nones that I suspect I produced poems which had not been written first by Auden. Thereafter, it was a matter of writing the kind of poems I admired in Auden, not so much making the sound of the poems themselves. These days I much prefer the later poems, from "River Profile" onward, though The Sea and the Mirror remains a quarry. I ought to point out that coming to know the person Auden (a New Yorker, very generous to me) made the poet Auden (a world figure, altogether formidable) somewhat less of a risk, more of a resource. In this, I like to think I take after John Hollander and James Merrill. It seems to me that for most people (not poets) the Auden-figure has rather coagulated: poems and prose and personality have melted into an indissociable mass characterized by braininess, hectoring, and a certain temperamental chill. I keep finding new reasons (in my frequentation of the work) for detaching poetical practice (and theory, too) from this composite monster, being as often surprised by fresh discoveries in the poetry as in other great (and copious) poets of the visitable past.
So much of Auden has been internalized that I am not conscious, much of the time, of his "influence"-it has ceased to be that. Valéry once said that the lion was made of assimilated lamb; I have reversed the zoology, but the digestive process is the same. Like many American poets of my generation, poets of some cultivation, I struggled through the Eliot and Stevens ventriloquisms with a terrible sense of inadequacy; but when I spoke through Auden, I fondly hoped I could hear him speak through me. Of course this was erroneous, but it was useful (at thirty). At nearly seventy, I think the possibilities of corruption and correction are over; Auden stands in my mind and ear as simply (simply!) an assumption of whatever capacity I have-like Browning, say, or Baudelaire.
What remains liveliest and most pervasive, upon inspecting the nostalgias, is the Auden-inspired will to make coherent (and recognizable) verbal objects, accountable to my experience and my observation.
Richard Howard is the author of numerous books of poetry, translations and essays. His most recent volume of poetry, Trappings: New Poems, was published by Turtle Point Press this year.
What period of Auden's career has most influenced you?
At a time-in my twenties-when I should have been attracted to the early poems, to their obliquity and spiky glamour, I was instead sitting for lessons to Stevens, who must have scratched the same itch over my angel wing with a more precise fingernail. By the time I could read more intelligently, the late poems had their garrulous appeal; I liked their tone, their having been written under the Stoic motto: hold on and hold off. But it was his middle period that struck me most forcefully. The poems of the 40s and 50s, the work of the American Auden, these exerted the sway I fell under, or tried breathlessly to rise to. They were the work of a writer who literally entertained ideas. Nietzsche, an Auden avatar, once defined maturity as the ability "to recover the seriousness one had as a child at play." He meant, I suppose, the quality of attention and of imagination-utterly free, utterly absorbed. For me, then and now, those poems brim with perfectly chosen details, with phrases that can upend a lifetime's complacencies, with further mysteries posing as fresh solutions.
Which particular poems do you like best, or find most useful to you as a poet, and why? And have your choices changed over the years?
From the start, "The Shield of Achilles" and "In Praise of Limestone" have been touchstones for me. Among longer poems, I return most often to "Bucolics," "Horae Canonicae," and "Thanksgiving for a Habitat." None of these poems, though, do I find "useful" to me as a writer-however essential they are to my life as a reader. What I have "taken" from Auden has been more general, or more technical. The occasional stanza scheme, a model for handling syllabics, that sort of thing. Most of all, the exhilarating example of his discursive mode; his sense that poems are not decorative, but diagnostic, not self-full effusions or mystical anecdotes, but practical investigations of the psyche and the culture. The Collected Poems hasn't been a hornbook so much as a pantheon-some cool vaulted marble temple I can stroll through, admiring the shrines, wondering at the shaft of light slowly circling through the giant hole at the top. He's a presence, a pressure, an example of what can be done, not of what to do. And because I consider him to be the greatest poet of this century-my century-I'm instinctively drawn to his formulations of experience. He looked under more rocks than any of his peers; with the exception of Proust, he was more honest about the heart's duplicities than anyone; and he used his capacious intelligence to create a wondrously kaleidoscopic mythology of modern life.
What technical or stylistic innovations do you find most helpful in Auden's work, and why?
There are lessons I've learned, but don't yet feel ready to try. A certain eccentric boldness of phrasing, for instance. Auden's word-play is of a high order, and thankfully has nothing to do with puns or catchy enjambments.
Your poems often display great formal mastery. What is it like to write in form after Auden?
Intimidating. But no more so than to be writing after a Larkin or Merrill, a Hecht or Wilbur. I think there's been a minor resurgence of interest in formal poetry-or perhaps I should say a greater tolerance, an awareness of its expressive possibilities that the dominant aesthetic of the last forty years had denied. Myself, I find it difficult to start a poem, or to move much beyond the scattering of phrases and a strong impulse that is the start of most any poem, without its filings being drawn into some sort of form by an instinctive magnet. Form's what affirms, said James Merrill, and I'd agree. I like what it prompts and what it authorizes. By the way, one unsightly blemish on the face of the new respect accorded formal poetry has been the so-called New Formalists, whose work by and large is wooden. Their emphasis is all exoskeletal. There's no guts, no heart.
Have you been influenced by Auden's public persona (both in England and America)?
I hope not. I mean, I like a good martini, but I was never for a moment attracted to the slovenly, drug-addled, tyrannical, distracted Auden of popular legend-except as a legend, rather like his iconic, Navajo-elder face. And I'm afraid I'm unworthy of the private Auden who was so considerate and generous, so disciplined and productive. But the way he construed the writer's life has been a model. Or at least a sanction. He only considered himself a "poet" when he was writing poems. There was nothing bardic about him. He was a man of letters for whom criticism, journalism, song lyrics, record jacket copy . . . anything went. With the amount of prose I write, and the opera libretti, I suppose you could say I share his temperament-or at least his sense of the writer's pleasures and responsibilities.
When you are in the process of writing a poem that does not explicitly address Auden, are you conscious of Auden's influence on your work?
I've only written one poem explicitly addressed to Auden. It's called "Auden's OED"-a set of books, as it happens, that is shelved near my desk, a gift some years ago from James Merrill, who'd in turn had it from Chester Kallman. But I don't want to be coy about this. There are certainly other poems that implicitly-or I should say, a little less explicitly-address Auden, or at least his concerns in certain poems. In my book The Rest of the Way, there's a poem called "The Shield of Herakles," It takes as its premise the shield described in Hesiod, as Auden's poem on Achilles takes its lead from Homer. As I've already said, "The Shield of Achilles" is a favorite of mine, so an obvious way to pay homage to the poem-that is, to read it even more carefully-was to imitate it. To imitate Auden doesn't mean to copy him. My poem doesn't-couldn't!-sound with his grace or authority, but it segues from the shield's details to both autobiography and a kind of political discourse ("Machine-made Armageddons-tanks / Or missile shields in outer space- / Threaten always to turn against / The false-hearted power they excite. / What draws attack is self-defense, / A target for the arrow's flight."). And in my collection Ten Commandments, the poem "Under Hydra" is an effort to make the sort of gesture Auden's "Under Sirius" (and James Merrill's "Under Mars," itself a nod to Auden's poem) does. If I were forced to admit it, I'd say that the phrasing of "Under Hydra" owes whatever crispness, even abruptness, it has to Auden's characteristic tone. As for all the other poems I've written, no, I wasn't conscious of Auden while composing them. At times like that, you're so engrossed in getting something out and down that you're only aware of its unconscious sources much after the fact. Auden's influence on my work, frankly, would be more easily spotted and evaluated by someone other than me.
What has Auden made possible for younger poets?
As I've already said, a sense of what can be done in the art, and for the art. His genius for synthesizing vast amounts of information, for linking in his poems otherwise disparate spheres, for using literature as an instrument of discovery-these are all there to be drawn on by younger poets. Do they? Will they? There are so many competing flashes of energy in our image-glutted society that Auden's high lonely beacon may easily be obscured by glitzier rhetorics, from kiss-and-tell surrealism to empty-headed L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E scrolls. Better poets, even as tyros, would read their Auden and agree with Proust, who wrote in a letter, "L'Art est un perpétuel sacrifice de sentiment à la vérité."
What, if anything, was available to Auden as a poet, as a member of the twenties generation, that is not available to you, as a member of a younger generation?
An outside stage of worldwide calamities-the collapse of traditional attitudes after the Great War, the Depression, the Second World War, the Holocaust . . . the works. The horrible events of more recent times-Cambodian massacres or African famines-always seem to be happening too far away from one's possible involvement. The only comparable event in the life of my generation-barring the Vietnam war protests, and the civil rights struggle in the States-has been the AIDS crisis, a viciously destructive horror that has raised all sorts of moral questions. But it doesn't move at newsreel speed, and hasn't prompted the kind of poetry that events of the first half of this century did. I also think that Auden moved to New York at just the right time. Contrary to old misunderstandings, the 1950s were an exciting, adventurous time for culture in New York. Auden petered out just as the mind did-eek! The 70s were a low point in the history of civilization, and the recovery from it all has been only a chilly post-modernism. No, Auden lived, as the Chinese say, in interesting times. And it drew his work continually toward a serious meditation on the wages of history.
What difference do you think it makes in the way Auden wrote poetry and the way you write poetry that he was English and you American?
Every English writer seems hobbled by his struggle to disengage himself from the ridiculous class system that's bred in the bone there, but I couldn't begin to calculate here the array of pressures, from apologetics to pranks, it occasioned in Auden's work. Auden had a better education for a poet than most Americans are offered. As it happens, I was schooled by Jesuits and had a rigorous training in the classics. But that's rare nowadays. Being English (excuse my trading on silly stereotypes, but your question allows me no elbow room), he had the advantage of a kind of verbal fluency that must have made his work in prose less of a burden to him. Then, when he arrived in America, his Englishness had a double advantage, making him at once more curious about the spectacles and freedoms of his new country and more skeptical of his self-proclaimed superiorities. Unlike a Yeats or Frost, he wrote all his life as if from exile. On the other hand, I've always detected a tiny bit of squeamishness in Auden, and that's not something I have myself been troubled with. My work deals with sensuality-indeed, with sexuality-more directly. Of course, the closet having collapsed, it's easier to write about one's homosexuality now than it was for Auden-though he may not have wanted to explore more than he did. It doesn't rank high on my list of preferred subjects either. Still . . . it was a crucial part of his life and could only be dealt with in code.
What is your perception of the public place that Auden now occupies? He is probably not as influential and imposing a figure today as he was in his lifetime, but what role do you think he still plays in shaping the contemporary poetic climate?
Yes, during his lifetime his presence-the authority of his opinions more than the specifics of his line-must have been daunting. You can tell from the hushed testimony of other poets-Elizabeth Bishop, say. With the next generation, a direct stylistic influence is more overt. In Hecht or Merrill, Auden is a prominent ghost in the machine. And the poets he chose as Yale Youngers were all Audenesque in their first books-Wright and Rich and Hollander and Merwin. In my generation, as you rightly suspect, most poets have looked elsewhere-and often to younger models, to Plath, say, or to Merwin. That may in part be due to the fact that Auden is not taught in schools or universities. Always considered a British poet, he is excluded from courses. Eliot holds court still in the curriculum, and then American professors jump to Pound or Williams or Moore or Frost. None of these poets has as complex a body of work, and this too may make the professoriate hesitate. Still, students have the distinct thrill of finding Auden on their own, and secret treasures, postponed pleasures are the more captivating. This is less true in England than in America. Auden's hand is quite visibly on the shoulder of many younger poets there, from James Fenton to Glyn Maxwell. Here, things are less obvious. On the other hand, appreciation of Auden's own achievement is a thriving cottage industry-biographies, critical studies and commentaries abound. But these sorts of books appeal more the scholar than to the poet, I fear. Among younger American poets, from William Logan to Rachel Wetzsteon, Auden will continue to be passed on samizdat-style. That may just be the way he'd prefer it.
J. D. McClatchy is the author of several books of poetry; he has also published two volumes of essays, edited numerous anthologies and written opera libretti. His most recent book of poetry, Ten Commandments, was published by Knopf last year.
The story of my private reading of Auden, and of his influence on me as a poet, is largely different from the critical and scholarly view of him that I have taken since the late 1960s, and may seem a little odd to readers of the Newsletter. But this is because it dates from, and is to a great extent confined to, a period when I was distinctly wet behind the ears.
At the time, of course, it is a revelation to all of us, this first reading of our hero, and accompanies our waking up into adult life-or so it seems. At one moment I am a cheerful fourteen, and copying Flecker's "Old Ships" or Eliot's "Preludes" into a classroom notebook (we had an enlightened master, who also read us the stories of Saki), and the next I am a pretentious fifteen, reading Auden and wearing an old green coat with the collar turned up. This is 1952, so "late" Auden is hardly in question. Nones was the most recent volume, the shorter work from the Collected Poetry of 1945 not available. If Larkin (twelve years my senior) could not get through The Age of Anxiety then I doubt that I was going to, although it was probably the typography of these volumes as much as anything that put me off-small, neat, elegant and with square brackets, very different from the charismatic and authentic black Bodoni of The Orators and the vulgar sprawl of The Dog Beneath the Skin, which were the central works for me.
I thought Auden a figure of utter mystery. He seemed to occupy a central space in his own poems without quite being there. In the first poem I ever remember reading, Yeats's "The Fiddler of Dooney," I was not aware of an author at all. The poem might have been written by the fiddler himself for all I knew (wouldn't Yeats have been pleased). Other poets, like Masefield, seemed to paint pictures. And others who I knew were modern, like Eliot, dangled personae before the reader with conscious teasing, like puppeteers. Auden had no need to invent a Sweeney (though I loved Sweeney) but simply strolled in and out of his text with utter disregard for self-protection: "his mother's figure": what a marvelous outrage, this casual "he." And I had never seen the word "bugger" printed before. Mine was an "enlightened" public school, but a friend reading Ulysses had it confiscated by the surmaster.
Equal in power with his actual works was this strange veiled presence, which seemed heroic and yet careless, dissident and yet insouciant. It was also, as I came to realize, a kind of absence or distance, more effective than the "invisibility" of Eliot. Eliot after all was perfectly visible (through glass doors in the London Library, for example, speaking to a roomful of suits) whereas Auden was in America. No one knew what he looked like. He was the youthful photograph in Francis Scarfe's Auden and After which (like the Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare) implied the severe priority of the work itself, but also therefore a particular value in the kind of iconic physical features revealed. I am sure that in my hero-worship I created a whole typology of "Auden," shared by unlikely sub-heroes such as Charlie Vaughan, the Charlot Athletic centre-forward, or Jonathan Miller, then in the senior science form at school. He was the school comedian, and fatuously compared to Danny Kaye. (Later I was amused to see photographs of Auden-for example at the first night of The Rake's Progress-looking much more like Kaye than Miller did.)
This powerful mythical presence (or rather absence) of the man Auden has not been yet sufficiently examined, except in the unpublished work of Ian Sansom, but it is an important element in influence. When I first actually met (whenever I met) the real talkative and self-repeating Auden, it had a distinctly, as it were, anaphrodisiac effect. But in the mid 1950s a poem of mine called "Morvin" tried to describe the elusive power of the type (and may with its tram-races and the "royal crest upon the chamber-pots" suggest that I thought that Eisenstein, too, was a kind of Auden, and that I perhaps wished that both were more surrealist than they actually were, surrealism and films being a passion with me then).
The Orators was a phantasmagoria of which I understood perhaps ten percent. But I imitated it in a hard-bound exercise book which was the great project of my leisure hours in the Prep Room of my boarding house, just as my friends played chess or made fireworks, or just ragged. I incorporated rhythmical elements from Sweeney Agonistes, plenty of baleful descriptions, and inexplicable and frantic actions from characters who might have come together into some kind of story, but never did. None of this survives, but some pious sonnets that I wrote in 1953 on the subject of death suddenly lurch into semi-life with some sinister half-rhymes which must have come from Auden ("The doctor urgently explored her wounds, / Then with a sigh discreetly drew the blinds") and as late as 1956 I wrote a turgid verse-play about an assassination which owed almost everything to On the Frontier and the tauter moments of his 1930s lyrics.
Such exposure is not an inoculation, it is exposure as to a sun, which if it does not prove fatal at least leaves one permanently tanned. Although I believed, as I grew a little wiser, that reading Graves, Ransom and Stevens would show me a more profitable direction (and, in the 1960s, Marvell and the Augustans) I have no doubt that Auden remained an automatic (and sometimes unwitting) resource.
But this is true of English poetry generally: Auden's print is on the last seventy years. You would have said exactly the same about Donne in 1660, Milton in 1750, or Wordsworth in 1860, and their followers might be rueful about, as well as grateful for, the inescapable influence. There is too much Auden, I now see, in my collection Cannibals and Missionaries of 1972, but I was writing my Reader's Guide then, and the saturation had moved from exposure to infection. I have also, of course, paid conscious tribute, even quite recently, to genres, subjects or stanzas invented by, or associated with Auden (in "The Malverns," for example, or my political sonnet-sequence "Europe"). Such borrowing is open and intentional, though there is perhaps less a sense of hommage than simply the gratefulness for a sign-post, i.e. that this is how one can now write a sonnet sequence.
I hope that in my critical (or rather, expository) work on Auden I do him justice according to the importance he has had for me as a writer. Although the "story" is different, the final significance is after all the same.
John Fuller has written many books of poetry, novels and children's books. His W. H. Auden: A Commentary was published last year.
Possibly for the first time ever, on 12 June 1999, a public event dedicated to Auden's relationship to his Pennine Mutterland took place. Let us hope it will be the first of a series. The North Pennines Heritage Trust, as part of the North Pennines People and Places programme, had asked Robert Forsythe (your author) to lead a guided coach tour around Auden's haunts on Alston Moor.
The day dawned wet and windy. Hill fog covered the summits during the drive over from Tynedale, through the Allendales towards Nenthead. Would the twenty people who had booked the coach to capacity but had not paid, turn up? It seemed as if the tour could not start otherwise than with Auden's own comments on the English climate in "England: Six Unexpected Days": "I hope you will have luck with the weather, but if the Pennines are really your dish you won't care." "England: Six Unexpected Days," Auden's 1954 article written for Vogue and intended as a practical guide for people interested in Northern England, was to play an important role in our tour.
All sorts of initiatives to reflect on Auden's Pennine link happened, due to the vagaries of their funding, to come together this summer. Our tour; an exhibition called "Auden's Pennine Landscapes" that opened in the beginning of August housed in the Barrack Block at Nenthead Mines-a building Auden must have known; and a booklet entitled W. H. Auden: Pennine Poet, supported by the Countryside Agency and Northumberland Country Council. The booklet features a first British printing of "England: Six Unexpected Days," colour pictures of Auden locations and specially drawn cartography of Auden's Pennine sites. By the best good fortune, the printer had copies ready on Friday, June 11; so our journey to Nenthead saw the car carrying the first consignment of the new book with which to surprise the tour participants.
I had driven the road high above West Allendale a handful of times this year. Each time had been blessed with clear views; but on the 12th there was fog. Through the fog, however, the tour participants were coming. Everyone arrived, and some folk had come a long way. There was an American lady who told me she had grown up in Brooklyn Heights. She had seen the tour noted in the Times Literary Supplement, and, since she now lives in London, had booked and made the trip north. There was a gentleman from one of Britain's leading poetry publishers; there was the director of Beamish Museum (North England's largest); there was a local representative for European Union funding. A number of the rest of the tour's members were drawn from the local W. E. A. (adult education) courses or were North Pennines Heritage Trust members. Even the lady coach driver was concealing an interest. She was busy reading Bill Bryson during the stops and turned out to be an archaeologist in need of a second income.
The tour started at the heritage centre for Nenthead Mines; we stood by Rampgill Mine mouth in the rain and reflected on its role in "The Watershed" poem and on Nenthead's appearance as "Stunhead" in "The Enemies of the Bishop." Then it was off across the first of several watersheds along a route which kept on diving in and out of Auden's own "England: Six Unexpected Days" itinerary, the more recent Pennine Way footpath, and the cyclist's C2C route. Up we went to 1,999 feet on Coalcleugh Moor (bleak) and then down to Carr Shield and the two ruined adits (horizontal mine entrances) which form the other end of "The Watershed" narrative. Here the tour crossed into Northumberland from Cumbria. Durham was to feature later at Cauldron snout, but the other Auden heartlands in Durham, Rookhope and Blanchland, were deliberately left for another occasion; they merit a day all to themselves.
Our bus driver turned her vehicle around. Her task was to be a continual exercise in gear changing and good judgment, something Auden must have seen for himself seventy years ago (bus drivers do appear in his poetry). Back up the watershed, past Nenthead again and on down to Alston. Then across the South Tyne river where we stopped for a short walk along the Pennine Way to a house now called Tower Hill but once Alston's Shot Tower, a walk and a house which, research suggests, feature in "Not in Baedeker."
Then it was off climbing up the fells again, this time on the famous A686 Hartside pass road. The road surmounts both the watershed of Britain and, at 1,983 feet at Hartside, the Pennine Fault. Judging by the weather, we could expect visibility of only about 50 feet. Then, a miracle: as we climbed, the weather did what it normally does not do-it got better with height.
Hartside Café had a view and was bustling with cyclists and what seemed like a rally for old Minis. The view west encompassed the Solway Firth and the Lakeland Hills. The sky was still not perfectly clear; we looked down on showers falling below us, and on patches of sunlight highlighting the green fields and stone walls of Eden. At Hartside, we saw the dramatic scenery which Auden must have fallen for and which, seen from the direct way into the North Pennines from Keswick, he must have seen in many moods.
We lunched and then reflected on Hartside and the Pennine Fault's role in "The Chase," "New Year Letter" and "The Age of Anxiety." Then it was off in the coach again. Cross Fell and Cashwell were fully in view and we were right in the centre of the country that Auden described, and whose atmosphere was so powerfully articulated by this seventeen year-old in "Alston Moor." We retraced our steps for a few miles and then diverged right. Several miles of narrow roads followed through Leadgate, and past Rotherhope mine to Garrigill (all Auden names). The journey continued past Tynehead, to the next watershed with the Tees at 1,937 feet. We were on Yad Moss and beneath Deadstones-more Auden names, the land of "The Secret Agent."
The last stop was at Cow Green Reservoir, something that did not exist before 1967, but to whose potential "The Secret Agent" alludes. From here (and thank God or Auden for the drier weather), it is a four kilometre walk to one of Auden's numinous places: Cauldron Snout from "Prologue at Sixty."
Sticking to the path (for the surrounding sugar limestone is part of a National Nature Reserve and the area is, according to David Bellamy, "England's Last Wilderness"), we reached the Snout and lingered. The heavy rains ensured it was performing well, despite the nearby dam. Here the Tees falls some seventy feet over an immense cascade of dolerite rock.
Finally, after another climb to 1,980 feet on the punishing direct route from Garrigill, it was back to Nenthead, which we reached just twelve minutes behind schedule.
While I have tried, in this account, to stick to the factual and descriptive, I know it was an eye-opening day for many of us. We wondered how a child from far away could have adopted these remarkable and lonely places and turned them into the bedrock of his craft and of his reflection upon love and the Fall.
Those of you who read this in America may wonder whether any of your compatriots ever acted on Auden's suggestions in "England: Six Unexpected Days" published in American Vogue all those years ago. Perhaps it is time for a party to come over and follow the itinerary in a coach? There are now people in the Pennine and elsewhere in Britain ready to help host such a group.
Born in Norfolk, Robert Forsythe was trained in both theology and industrial archaeology, and has worked in Yorkshire, Ayrshire and Northumberland since 1984.
It has often been mentioned that in 1957 W. H. Auden received an Italian literature prize for his lifetime achievement. No doubt, the fact that he and Chester Kallman had for the last few years spent their summers in a rented villa in Forio, a small village on the island of Ischia, had a bearing on the decision to award this prize to Auden. The amount involved was substantial ($32,000), and it was Auden's intention to invest this money in property. When, however, he approached his landlord with a view to purchase the house in Forio, he was in for a shock. The asking price was outrageous, and Auden and Kallman decided to purchase property elsewhere. Apparently, Auden wanted to settle in a country where German was spoken, though not necessarily Germany, where there was a drinkable local wine, and a first-class opera house nearby, and this led to the choice of a place near Vienna.
Why on earth Kirchstetten in particular was chosen is a question asked by most of the people who have visited the place. In his 1965 poem dedicated to his neighbor the Austrian poet Josef Weinheber who had died 20 years earlier (1892-1945), Auden means to please the Kirchstettners; of the area he writes:
Looking across out valley
where, hidden from the view
Sichelback tottles westward
to join the Perchling,
humanely modest in scale
and mild in contour,
conscious of grander neighborsto bow to, mountains
soaring behind me, ahead
a noble river.
Reading between the lines, however, it is obvious that the countryside has little to offer. It seems likely that Auden was trying to get the most for his money; and Austria at the time was definitely one of the cheapest places this side of the Iron Curtain. The Russians had only just left the area, prices were low, and property was dirt cheap. On 4 October 1957 the house, which included a substantial tract of land, was purchased at a price of 217,700 Austrian Schillings-which at the time was the equivalent of US$ 8,373 (at an exchange rate of 26 ATS to the dollar). The purchasers of the house were Wystan Hugh Auden and Chester Simon Kallman, both residing at 77 St. Marks Place, New York, N. Y. The house was sold by a Mr. Erich Zimmerann, resident at Vienna VIII, Florianigasse 86. The contract was drawn up by a Viennese solicitor by the name of D. Walter Redlich, whose office was located at Vienna I, Wipplingerstrasse 24. The land register shows that the transfer of the title took place on 9 December 1957. Auden and Kallman were joint owners of the house. According to a deed of gift dated 24 September 1969 and 2 July 1971, Chester Kallman became the sole owner of the property. The transfer of title was entered in the land register on 6 October 1971. This means that Kallman, who was Auden's sole heir, became the owner of the place well before Auden's death in September 1973. The transfer of title definitely was triggered by an Austrian tax claim.
A lot has been written about this tax claim, and the general impression is that Auden was treated unjustly by the Austrian authorities. A few words of explanation might be needed here. The Austrian tax law quite clearly stipulates that anybody, irrespective of citizenship, is subject to Austrian taxation as soon as this person establishes a permanent residence in Austria. Permanent residence is defined as living in the country for at least six months of the year, owning property (property does not necessarily mean that the person has to own real estate; it is also defined, for instance, as renting a flat and furnishing it, or owning a car), and making a living in the country, although the income itself need not derive from Austria. In the case of Auden this definition of having a permanent residence in the country was applicable. He lived in the country for a least six months of the year, a fact commonly known; he owned property, including a car, and, as he told everybody who wanted to hear it, he worked in Austria as was witnessed by his workroom in Kirchstetten. Any foreigner living in Austria has to obtain a police permit, and a permit of residence is required for the so-called "Meldezettel" (police registration form) without which one cannot, for instance, purchase a car. A copy of this "Meldezettel" goes to the tax office, where a so-called "Steuernummer" (tax number) is associated with it. The tax office sends out a questionnaire, which is the equivalent of a tax return sheet. Auden was sent such questionnaires, but he did not bother to complete them because he thought they did not apply to him. In view of his lack of response, the tax office made their own estimate of his income and sent him a tax claim. It is a pity that Auden did not consult an Austrian tax lawyer before taking up residence in Austria, as this step would have saved him a lot of trouble. Auden carried out a long battle with the Austrian Internal Revenue service; the help of quite a few people was enlisted, including the Austrian Chancellor Kreisky. During the course of this battle Auden gave away his share of the house in Kirchstetten to Chester Kallman in order to avoid confiscation by the Internal Revenue. In the end the claim was halved, and Auden seems to have paid up.
Not only did Auden have problems with the Austrian Internal Revenue, but he was also subjected to outright and nasty thievery. The Austrian Newspaper Die Wiener Zeitung reported on this incident in June 1964 as follows:
AMERICAN WRITER SUBJECTED TO THIEVERY
On April 28th the 21-year-old locksmith Karl Neugebauer and the 19-year-old house painter Josef Kappensteiner, both from Rodaun (Vienna XXIII), found themselves without a penny in Neulengbach (a market town near Kirchstetten) and they did not know where to spend the night. By sheer coincidence they made the acquaintance of the American author Wystan Hugh Auden who felt sorry for the two young men. He invited them to spend the night in his home in Kirchstetten. The next morning the author had to go away, and the two young men had to leave the hospitable house. They did not, however, go very far, and as soon as they thought that the air was clear they returned to the house and stole 7,000 Austrian Schillings, 2,049 Icelandic Crowns and English cigarettes. The American returned on the same day, discovered the theft and reported it to the police. Soon after, the two youngsters, who already had a police record, were locked up.
They had to appear in court, where they admitted to the theft. Neugebauer was sentenced to 8 months and Kappensteiner to 7 months in prison. Both accepted the sentence. (Wiener Zeitung, 31 June 1964. My translation.)
WILLIAM EDGAR PATTERMANN
William Edgar Pattermann has recently completed an M.Phil. dissertation at the University of Vienna on Auden in Austria.
After this book appeared in April 1999 further information came to light (or at least to my memory or attention) about some of its details. The following notes amplify or correct a few points in the book; some but not all will fit on the page of the paperback edition scheduled to be published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in the spring of 2000.
Page 316: Heidegger.
Reinhold Niebuhr's The Nature and Destiny of Man, which Auden reviewed in 1941, included brief quotations from Sein und Zeit, perhaps the first passages from Heidegger that Auden encountered. Paul Tillich had used the phrase "thrown into being" in an essay, "Philosophy and Theology," which Ursula Niebuhr had sent to Auden in 1940.
Page 352: Auden and paintings.
A footnote on this page refers to Auden's reference to Dr. Edward Kallman, Chester's father, in his line about "a retired dentist who only paints mountains." Auden was either mistaken or playful in this line. A painting of mountains, in impressionist style, was prominently displayed in Dr. Kallman's apartment among his other paintings, but this painting was the work of Abraham Manievich (1883-1942), a Russian modernist who lived in New York. Dr. Kallman's paintings included still lifes, cityscapes, and Long Island landscapes, but he seems never to have painted mountains.
Page 357: the youngest day.
Auden's phrase "the youngest day" is a literal rendering of a German term for the day of judgment, der Jüngste Tag.
Page 418: Long Island City.
[The first footnote on this page should be replaced with this expanded version:]
The following winter he proposed to his friends Anne and Irving Weiss that they (and their four young children) join him and Kallman in buying a four-story house in Long Island City, one subway stop away from Manhattan. Kallman and Irving Weiss vetoed the idea.
Page 429: Owen Barfield.
Auden remembered Charles Williams when paraphrasing Barfield. "We have no means of learning what / Is really going on" adapts the passage in The Descent of the Dove where Williams distinguished medieval problems from ours: "We have the questions-say, What is going on, if anything? or Does God exist?-but no answers until we discover them, if we do. But then we have no means of checking the answers" (p. 109).
Page 462: City without Walls.
In modern religious and quasi-religious writings, "city without walls" sometimes signifies the Christian community, and if Auden had this sense in mind, he was using it with the kind of irony he used when he titled an earlier poem "The Love Feast." But he may also have been thinking of a biblical phrase closer to the tone of the poem itself: "He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls" (Proverbs 25:28).
Page 478: A television spot.
The television commercial made for Lyndon Johnson's campaign is slightly misquoted; the closing words read: "or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die." (And the film was sixty seconds long, not thirty.)
Page 515: Auden's last poem.
The sequence "O O O O" in Auden's last haiku has notable antecedents. Hamlet (in the First Folio) and Lear (in the Quarto) both die speaking the same four syllables, and T. S. Eliot used them in The Waste Land: "O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag."
Janet Adam Smith died on 11 September 1999 at the age of 93. She and her husband Michael Roberts (whom she married in 1935) were both close friends of Auden in the 1930s, and both helped to publish his early work.
Roberts had included some of Auden's poems in his anthology New Signatures in 1932. Janet Adam Smith, impressed by the poems, asked Auden for a contribution to the BBC weekly The Listener, where she was working as assistant editor. Auden sent "O what is that sound," but it was rejected in her absence. In 1933, she arranged to print a four-page poetry supplement to the magazine, with "The Witnesses" in the center spread, framed by a dramatic woodcut by Gwen Raverat. The poem outraged John Reith, Director General of the BBC, but he was pacified when Janet Adam Smith elicited from T. S. Eliot some judicious words praise for Auden.
Janet Adam Smith and Michael Roberts were enthusiastic mountaineers, and Auden used them as sources for The Ascent of F.6. They moved to Newcastle after marrying (Roberts taught mathematics at the Royal Grammar School there), and she was replaced in her Listener job by J. R. Ackerley, who continued to publish Auden's work. Auden visited the Roberts family in Newcastle when their first child was born in 1937, and spent much time talking about medical and regional matters with their midwife.
The Roberts family (now numbering three children) moved to London in 1944 when Michael Roberts became Principal of the College of St. Marks and St. John, an Anglican teacher-training school. After Roberts died at an early age in 1948, Janet Adam Smith worked as assistant literary editor and literary editor of The New Statesman from 1949 to 1960. In 1965 she married John Carleton, headmaster of Winchester. Carleton died in 1974.
Janet Adam Smith was the author of R. L. Stevenson (1937), Mountain Holidays (1946), John Buchan, a Biography (1965), and John Buchan and His World (1979). She edited The Faber Book of Children's Verse (1953), collections of Stevenson's and of Michael Roberts' poems, and translated and edited many other works. She continued to write for American and British periodicals into her eighties.
What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden's Poetry, by Alan Jacobs. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998. 160pp. $32.00.
Alan Jacobs' What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden's Poetry takes the first part of its title from Philip Larkin's influential 1960 review that argued that there is a great discontinuity between the brilliant pre-1940 Wystan and the, according to Larkin, vastly inferior post-1940 Wystan. Jacobs turns Larkin's evaluations upside down. Like Larkin and many others, he identifies 1940 as the pivotal point in Auden's career, but Jacobs argues that we must-as the second part of his title tells us-see both "change" and "continuity" in Auden's poetry. Furthermore, far from judging the post-1940 Auden a lesser poet as Larkin does, Jacobs champions the American Auden. His book defends Auden not only against Larkin's attack, but also against Randall Jarrell's equally influential attack in a 1945 article that accused the post-1940 Auden of moral "frivolity." Instead of a loosening of moral concerns in Auden's post-1940 poetry, Jacobs argues, there is a honing and tightening of moral responsibility.
Both Jarrell's and Larkin's reviews are by now old hat, and have been rejected by many readers and critics. But the rift between fans of the English Auden and fans of the American Auden is still a defining one, and Larkin's and Jarrell's arguments continue to color the debate. Jacobs' perspective on Auden, then, is not revolutionary, but it offers, nevertheless, some new and original insights and raises some important questions about Auden's work.
Jacobs' first chapter is his most ambitious. That it is in some ways incomplete is perhaps, then, a matter of course, for in it Jacobs addresses the question of change itself. What, he asks, does it mean for a person to change? Jacobs makes the point that humanistic studies do not have a proper vocabulary for talking about personal change. From Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault we have learned how to talk about scientific and institutional change, but, Jacobs correctly points out, to understand Auden-and presumably other poets and artists-, a Foucauldian idea of selfhood is not sufficient. Jacobs turns to Charles Taylor and Reinhold Niebuhr for help in building a vocabulary for talking about personal change, and gives a long discussion of Alasdair MacIntyre's understanding of how an individual's response to conflicting "traditions" gives rise to change. From all of this Jacobs concludes-to put it simply-that the changes in Auden's thought came from the intellectual "syncretism" of the many different traditions with which he came into contact. As is so often the case, the answers to the biggest, most interesting questions turn out to be perhaps a little commonplace, but that Jacobs directly raises and tries to tackle the question of personal change at all is not only honorable but also helpful.
Each subsequent chapter focuses on Auden's interactions with a different "tradition." Jacobs identifies poems-most of which come around the year 1940- "which represent transitional moments in Auden's thinking" to explain a "shift" in the career (xvi). The second chapter gives an interesting and knowledgeable discussion of Auden's relationship to a literary tradition that he rejected: romanticism. The next chapter treats a literary tradition that Auden "reclaimed": the Horatian. Here Jacobs makes a convincing argument about the influence of the Horatian tradition on Auden's later poetry, and helps us see better both Auden's ambivalence about his role as a poet and his growing sense that poetry must be situated, as Jacobs says, "within a context of social responsibility" (47).
In the fourth and fifth chapters, Jacobs addresses not literary, but social traditions. Here he eloquently defends Auden against charges of frivolity and immorality. The excellent fourth chapter traces Auden's movement from the idea of "universal" culture to "local" culture-terms that seem to me to be both exact and very helpful. The chapter gives an insightful reading of the shift between Auden's 1933 poem "A Summer Night" and his 1940 "New Year Letter." As Jacobs himself acknowledges, Edward Mendelson's reading of "A Summer Night" ("Out On the Lawn I Lie in Bed"), is a strong and influential one: Mendelson celebrates this poem as a pivotal one in which Auden for the first time expresses his ideas of Agape and attempts to arrive at "reconciliation." But Jacobs points out that the tone of this poem is more worried than Mendelson would have it. In Jacobs' cogent reading: "the Auden of 1933 fears as an insidious tendency to be satisfied with one's 'kindness to ten persons' while the 'gathering multitudes' outside starve" (56). According to this reading, Auden worries that the love that unites the people within the garden does not extend to the other side of the wall. But by 1940, in "New Year Letter," Jacobs shows, Auden embraces the "local" without feelings of guilt about larger "universals." This shift, Jacobs argues, comes with Auden's rejection of Marxism and his return to Christianity. Jarrell's attack on Auden's morality arises, then, from a misreading: Jarrell wanted Auden to remain on the universal level while Auden had instead moved his allegiance to what is arguably a more mature commitment to smaller, more local communities.
In the fifth chapter, Jacobs turns his attention to Auden's sexuality; his goal is to investigate how Auden got "from the celebration of transitoriness in 'Lay your sleeping head, my love' to the regretful acceptance of inconstancy in 'In Praise of Limestone'" (76). I found the underlying premise here problematic. "Lay your sleeping head, my love," does not, it seems to me, "celebrate" transitoriness, does not present the passing of love as "facts enunciated but not regretted," as Jacobs argues (74). Instead the poem is itself an expression of "a regretful acceptance of inconstancy." (There are, of course, major differences between the way the two poems view sexuality, but the primary difference between the poems, it seems to me, is more one of style-the difference between intensity and rumination.) Nonetheless, the chapter offers an interesting-if not altogether convincing-new perspective on Auden's attempts to reconcile his homosexuality and Christianity. Jacobs suggests that Auden's view of his homosexuality as a sin against the church is not as serious a self-condemnation as it might at first appear. Jacobs argues that since Auden also saw most forms of heterosexuality as sinful, he considered his homosexuality, then, as a kind of mixed blessing that protected him from the potentially more dangerous pitfalls of heterosexuality.
The book's final chapter returns to a literary tradition: the Menippea. Here Jacobs helpfully draws our attention to Auden's life-long relationship to this tradition, showing how there is at once continuity and change in that relationship. By situating Auden within this tradition, Jacobs places in context Auden's often ambiguous tone, and highlights his humor.
In the book's final pages, Jacobs quotes Seamus Heaney in praise of the language of the earlier Auden. But Jacobs himself is primarily a champion of the more mature, responsible, scintillatingly sharp, funny and wise later Auden. If Jacob's book at times seems to overlook one of the primary complaints leveled against the American Auden by many proponents of the early Auden-Larkin, Jarrell and Heaney among them-that the poetic quality of Auden's later work diminished, that is because Jacobs' book does not directly consider the aesthetic qualities of Auden's work, but rather concerns itself with Auden's "thinking." He is interested in how and why a person "changes his mind" and not in the question of how and why a person changes his style-an equally interesting question, but unfortunately outside the scope of this book. Nevertheless, about questions of ideas, traditions, interpretations of individual poems, Jacobs' book has much to say and offers insights both large and small.
NADIA HERMAN COLBURN
Auden and Isherwood: The Berlin Years, by Norman Page. London; Macmillan Press Ltd., and New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.
Norman Page is a prolific author and critic who was written about many of the best-known English writers, including E. M. Forster, Joseph Conrad, and Jane Austen. His joint biography of W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood joins that list and manages to add new insight to a brief and fruitful period in the lives of the two authors and friends.
The book is an experiment in biography according to the author. It may "be thought is as an attempt to write a biography, or microbiography, of two men and a city during a period which, though brief, was of considerable, even crucial, importance in the lives of all three" (5). By focusing on a small part of the lives of both writers, when they shared many experiences and acquaintances in the same city, Page hopes to show how they absorbed their "Berlin experiences more thoroughly into their lives and their art" than did other writers and artists who spent time there.
Page does this in a logical and methodical manner, dividing his study into five chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. The first chapter focuses on the two writers, their upbringing, and what brought them to Berlin. The second offers a bit of Berlin history- pointing out that in 1931 Berlin was the third largest city in the world, after New York and London-and a description of the places Auden and Isherwood frequented during their time there. Chapter Three, called "Berlin: Faces," provides brief sketches of five people who made Berlin their home in the Weimar period and had significant influence on Auden and/or Isherwood: Anna Muthesius, Auden's first landlady in Berlin; Magnus Hirschfeld, the pioneering sexologist; Francis Turville-Petre, the dissipated anthropologist; John Layard, the psychologist; and Gerald Hamilton, the con-artist who provided the basis for the character of Arthur Norris. These chapters provide good context for the work Auden and Isherwood produced from their Berlin experiences, and it's useful to have these brief biographies of some of the more significant people in the two writers' lives and in the life of the city.
In chapter four, Page examines the cultural context of Weimar Berlin by looking especially at the German cinema of the period, the career of Marlene Dietrich, and the growing repression of the arts as the twenties became the thirties. Isherwood's involvement with filmmaking is well known as is the effect of the cinema on his fiction, but Page also shows how the films of the period influenced Auden and his work. Page's final chapter takes a close look at the work each of the writers produced in and about Berlin and at the lasting effect Berlin had on their lives and work.
Much of the material in the early sections of the book will be familiar to Auden and Isherwood scholars and fans. Page's unabashed views, however, are one aspect of the book that make it a refreshing and a necessary read for those familiar with, for example, Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Auden, Valentine Cunningham's group biography of the writers of the thirties, or the various biographies of Isherwood. For Page often makes judgments about the events of the two writers' lives and work that differ from the conclusions drawn by previous biographers.
For example, Page is more even-handed with Auden's sex life than other scholars have been. As a young man coming into his own sexuality in the notoriously "wicked" Berlin, Auden frequented the boy bars, had several boyfriends, used prostitutes, and kept a record of these activities in his diary. Placing these activities in context, Page recognizes Auden's belief in romantic love and declares that a "tally of nine partners in as many months . . . is perhaps not everyone's notion of the frenetic and the voracious, and hardly qualifies Auden as a Don Giovanni of the boy-bars" (21).
The author also brings new perspective to several aspects of his research, particularly Auden's and Isherwood's own writing about their lives. Page examines the many statements Isherwood issued about why he went to Berlin in the first place, from contemporaneous explanations about learning German or visiting relatives to the much quoted, "Berlin meant boys," from Christopher and His Kind. Page suggests that Isherwood's openness late in life about his homosexuality should temper our acceptance of the latter declaration much as his reticence in his early career should temper our acceptance of the more cagey statements. Such skepticism is warranted, surely.
However, in other places, Page takes Isherwood too much at his word. Isherwood declares, also in Christopher and His Kind, "If boys didn't exist, I should have to invent them," claiming that, as a gay man, he had a distance from the majority that appealed to him. Yet surely Isherwood became comfortable with his outsider role as he became comfortable with his own sexuality. Earlier in the same passage, after all, Isherwood says that he prefers boys "because of their shape and their voices and their smell and the way they move. And boys can be romantic" (17). Clearly Isherwood's sexuality was formed at an early age and his sense of himself as an outsider-and his willingness to play that role-is a later rationalization of his sexuality. One doesn't simply decide to become gay because it's contrary or, as Page says, "adopt sexual nonconformity as a mode of protest" (209).
While Page gives attention to Isherwood's work in equal measure to Auden's, I must say I think he consistently diminishes Isherwood's fiction, particularly the two novels most closely associated with this period, Mr. Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin. The publication of these two novels by New Directions in a combined edition in 1954, called The Berlin Stories, has meant that nearly everyone reading Isherwood knows this edition. However, Page (and others) uses the phrase "the Berlin stories" without capitalization or italics as a short-hand reference to the two works. A more appropriate description would be "the Berlin novels," unless referring specifically to the joint New Directions edition. Calling them "the Berlin stories," a phrase Isherwood came to regret, ignores the unified structure of the first and the disconnected, fragmented structure of the second. It also discounts Isherwood's contributions to the novel as a genre and to what Katherine Bucknell has described as "new documentary fiction."
This may be an unconscious slight; however, Page does eventually, late in the book, give his assessment of Isherwood: "beside the creative energy, the formidable intellect and the profound originality of Auden, Isherwood's talent, though distinctive, seems narrow and low-pulsed. There is a case for regarding Auden as the greatest British poet of the mid-century, while Isherwood remains a minor novelist and autobiographer who was shrewd enough to recognise his own strengths and limitations at a fairly early stage" (211). Having made Isherwood the subject of frequent reading for the last fifteen years and of much more-recent study, I can't agree with Page's assessment of the novelist. Fortunately, Isherwood is receiving some much-deserved attention these days. Auden and Isherwood: the Berlin Years is part of that attention and adds to the wealth of material on the thirties in Berlin and the English writers who lived and wrote there.
JAMES J. BERG
James J. Berg is co-editor of The Isherwood Century: Essays on the Life and Work of Christopher Isherwood, to be published by the University of Wisconsin Press in spring 2000. He teaches at the University of Maine.
Auden: The Voice of the Poet. Random House audiobook; Series Editor, J. D. McClatchy; $15.95.
W. H. Auden is one of three twentieth-century poets chosen to inaugurate The Voice of the Poet, a new series of "audiobooks" published by Random House (the other two are James Merrill and Sylvia Plath), and there's a lot to like about the handsome little yellow box, which includes an hour-long tape and a beautifully designed booklet with an elegant and helpful essay by J. D. McClatchy,
The poems that Auden reads span the entire range of his career, from the 1930 "The Wanderer" to the 1969 "New Year Greeting," with a healthy number of songs and sonnets, occasional poems and love lyrics in between. McClatchy's essay, in eight splendidly concise pages, introduces us to Auden's life and influences, his career-long interest in "fallen man, unfree man," and his place in modern poetry. McClatchy also does a good job of alerting us about what to listen for: Auden's early resemblance to "an anarchic Boy Scout on speed," his range and technical prowess, and his "inquisitive, ethical intellect." Supplementing this essay are several photographs of Auden and-scattered through the texts of the poems and shedding much light on them-brief passages in which he defines poetry: as "a bringing to consciousness . . . of emotions and their hidden relationships"; as "a verbal earthly paradise"; as "proof that man cannot be content with the outbursts of immediate sensation and . . . wants to understand and organize what he feels."
However well readers think they know Auden's poetry, they'll learn an enormous amount about it by listening to the tape. What's likely to strike (though not surprise) hearers of Auden's voice is how steadfastly he refuses to indulge in theatrics of any sort-and thereby resists the very temptation to "ruin a fine tenor voice/ For effects that bring down the house" that he warned against in "In Praise of Limestone." Reading "O Where Are You Going?" for example, Auden does not give different personalities to the poem's different speakers, but opts instead for one stern, sane voice throughout the poem. His reading of "Our Hunting Fathers," that dense early poem whose two stanzas offer a potted history of humanity, is similarly notable for Auden's refusal to end the second stanza, with its one long question, with any change in inflection: it barely sounds like a question, let alone a pressing one. And reading "The Common Life," a poem dedicated to Chester Kallman from the late sequence "Thanksgiving for a Habitat," Auden very movingly refuses to pour sentiment into its opening lines about "A living-room, the catholic area you/ (Thou, rather) and I may enter/ without knocking." These tight-lipped moments make the poems' underlying sentiments, as well as Auden's rare shifts in tone-like his lyrical, melancholy reading of "As I Walked Out One Evening," or his slight increase in emphasis at the final lines of "The Wanderer"-all the more moving. And any disappointment first-time listeners may feel ("He sounds so un-poetic!") will be offset by their dawning knowledge of how consistently Auden's matter-of-fact mannerer goes with his definition of poetry as "memorable speech." On a more technical note, it's also interesting to note how long Auden pauses at the ends of lines, even if the pauses feel awkward or stiff. We're reminded again, hearing these little silences, of Auden's unflashy reading style, his reluctance to sacrifice the sanctity of poetic lines for the rhetorical power of more conversational-sounding enjambments.
Despite the breadth of the poems and the attractiveness of the booklet, a few flaws keep this "audiobook" from being completely satisfying. Auden's reading is preceded and followed by very brief snippets of Bach lute music, which, however lovely, feels out of place. If it was intended to set the mood, surely something else (opera? cabaret?) would have been more appropriate. But is any music necessary? Shouldn't poems-Auden's or anyone's-set their own mood? More problematically, we're given no reasons either for the poems chosen or for the particular recordings of them. Why has the witty "Under Which Lyre" been chosen to represent Auden's poetry of the late 1940s rather than the profound "In Praise of Limestone"? Since readings of this poem do exist, and since many Audenophiles count it among their favorite poems, it's hard not to miss its absence especially. It's also hard not to wonder why-if the aim is to give us a sense of Auden's range-no excerpts from his great long poems of the 1940s have been included.
It might also have been a good idea to tell us more about the reasons behind the choices of recordings. Auden's reading of "In Memory of W. B. Yeats," for example, sounds extremely faint: why has this recording been chosen over others? And why does the printed version give us the line, "What instruments we have agree," when what Auden says is, "O all the instruments agree"? Auden diehards, of course, will know that he changed the latter line to the former. But people coming to his poetry for the first time-surely an audience to which this series should be attentive-will be understandably confused. A few end-notes about these and several other disparities between the texts of the poems and Auden's reading would easily clear up these questions; and far from distracting us from the poems, they'd help us learn more about them. (For similar reasons, it would be good to know why certain live recording were chosen over studio ones, as well as the dates of the readings.)
But despite these small weaknesses-which perhaps McClatchy and company will redress in future "volumes" in the series-Auden: The Voice of the Poet is a treasure trove of pleasure and information. It will serve equally well as a low-pressure stocking stuffer for a friend to whom one wants to introduce Auden and as an addition to a home already stuffed full of Audenalia. It's tempting to wonder what's next. Now that this audiobook has come, can a CD-ROM be far behind?
Rachel Wetzsteon is the author of two books of poems, both published by Penguin. She recently completed a dissertation on Auden at Columbia University.
Society members with access to the Internet can find a frequently updated list of forthcoming events and books on the Society's web site, audensociety.org. The site receives an average of about one hundred and fifty visitors each day, and visits have been recorded from almost a hundred countries and territories.
Thirteen translations by Auden and Branko Brusar of poems for children by Middle-European poets were published late in 1998 in a limited edition. The book, titled Poems in a Child's Eyes, has been printed in an edition of 130 copies in bound in handmade paper wrappers (100 of these are for sale at $125), and 26 copies bound in cloth in a slipcase (for sale at $300). Eleven of these poems appeared in the Yugoslavian magazine The Bridge in the early 1970s; the remaining two are published here for the first time. The book includes an introduction by Robert A. Wilson.
Orders may be sent to NADJA, 300 Cooper Street, Accord, New York, 12404; or call Carol Sturm at +1 914 687-0734.
An exhibition on "Auden's Pennine Landscapes" opened officially on 10 August 1999 in Nenthead, Cumbria, in the Barrack Block at Nenthead Mines, a building Auden almost certainly knew. The exhibit will remain open until the end of October and will be available for travel thereafter. It features Auden's poetry and new photography from Colin Dixon. It has been researched by Robert Forsythe and designed by Howard Dixon. Further details available from Hope Alderson, (+44) 01434 382037.
W. H. Auden: Pennine Poet. Nenthead: North Pennines Heritage Trust, June 1999. A 60-page booklet containing two papers: "W. H. Auden in the North" by Alan Myers, and "Auden's Pennine Names" by Robert Forsythe. Copies may be ordered for £3.50 through Hope Alderson, North Pennines Heritage Trust, Nenthead Mines Heritage Centre, Nenthead, Alston, Cumbria, CA9 3PD, UK; phone (+44) 01434 382037.
Carmen Dell'Aversano. The Silent Passage: Itinerario poetico di W. H. Auden. Pisa: Edizioni Ets, 1998; ISBN 88-467-0116-X.
Rainer Emig. W. H. Auden: Towards a Postmodern Poetics. London: Macmillan, December 1999; ISBN 0-333-74557-4.
Hans Werner Henze. Bohemian Fifths: An Autobiography. London: Faber & Faber, 1998; ISBN 0-571-17815-4. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999; ISBN 0-691-00683-0. Includes many details about Henze's collaborations with Auden and Kallman. Originally published in German as Reiselieder mit böhmischen Quinten: autobiographische Mitteilungen 1926-1995 (Frankfurt a/M: S. Fischer, 1996).
All writings by W. H. Auden in this number are copyright 1999 by the Estate of W. H. Auden.
Gresham's School, Holt, will hold a celebration of Auden and music in May 2000. Further details will be available on the Society's web site and from the school.
Ray Burton, a member of the W. H. Auden society and a secondhand bookseller, is leading a day of discussion about and courses on W. H. Auden on January 19, 2000 at the Urchfont Manor, an Adult Residential College dedicated to life long learning in Wiltshire County. For more information, contact Urchfont Manor College, Urchfont, Devizes, Wiltshire, SN10 4RG. Tel: Devizes 10380-840495. Fax: Devizes 01380-840005. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Emma Kann, a poet and friend of Auden from his years in Austria, wants readers to know that she is still following the Newsletter with interest.
As the Newsletter went to press we learned with sadness of the death of John Whitehead (1924-1999), who wrote extensively about Auden and many other literary and historical subjects, and was a generous supporter of the Society and of many students of Auden's work.
Annual subscriptions are as follows:
Individual members £6 $10 (students half-price)
Institutions £12 $20
Submissions to the Newsletter may be sent to the editor: Nadia Herman Colburn, Department of English, Columbia University, Mail Code 4927, New York NY 10027, or by e-mail to [address removed].
New members of the Society (and members wishing to renew) should send checks (cheques) payable to "The W. H. Auden Society"to Katherine Bucknell, [address removed].Receipts on request.
Return to home page or to top of this page or to general contents page.