EOETS need careful handling: a succinct and objective pen, preferably not their own, W. H, Auden is described in such a manner by Charles Osborne (W. H. Auden — The Life of a Poet, Eyre Methuen, £7.95), particularly in the gratuitous but vividly impartial profile at the end of the book.
His, creed was attractive — "we must love one another or die" — but one returns to his poetry with relief, making an effort to dissociate it from this irritating, selfish, slovenly man who made sloppiness a cult and played on his own idiosyncrasies often to the discomfort of others.
AUDEN, it must be admitted, justified his move to America at the time of the second world war rather more successfully than Christopher Isherwood ("ft's a country where you feel there's no ruling class," he said, "just a lot of people").
Isherwood, in his book My Guru and His Disciple (Eyre Methuen, i8.50), sets out to bring to the world his spiritual mentor in California, the Swami Prabhavananda, so many oi whose sayings seem based on those facile conundrums which fall so lightly from oriental tips when foreigners sit at their feet: "You must be like a lotus on the pond; the lotus leaf is never wet". It is hard to figure out who was possessor, and who the possession in this relationship, but in any ease, possessiveness is unattractive, and Isherwood wears his fashionable homosexuality so self-consciously on his sleeve that the resultant ego-trip is probably of more value to himself than anyone else. KEITH SAGAR'S Life of D. H. Lawrence (Eyre Methuen, £9.95) on the other hand, is impartial. professional, and complemented by pictures among the most interesting of which are Lawrence's own paintings which caused such controversy in spite of the backing of the Aga Khan, The artist Dorothy Brett painted Lawrence as the crucified Christ and as Pan, tempting himself with bunches of grapes, and here we see, through the words of Lawrence himself, and others close to him, the split man, always out of his element, forever on wild goose chases after dreams and visions in his search for truth.
"A man gradually formulates his religion, be it what it may," he says. "A man has no religion who has not slowly and painfully gathered one together ..."
That such tortuous living caused pain to others is no new revelation, but one man's life must always remain incomprehensible to another, and when Frieda Lawrence speaks after his death, it is to tell a different story, "Don't feel sorry for me," she said. "I am so rich.
"What woman has had what I have had, and now I have my grief — it's other people I pity, who never knew the glamour and wonder of things.
* * *
THERE are those who say of Cecil Day Lewis. as they did of Lawrence, that his life was ruined by divided emotional passions. He was ruthless in his personal life, and certainly untidy, but perhaps there would. have been no poetry otherwise.
The journalist's eye for revealing comment, brought to bear by his son Sean, in his honest and agreeable account of his father's life (An English Literary Life, Weidenfeld and Nieolson, £12.501, tells more than any amount of conjecture.
"Certain characteristics keep cropping up throughout my work," said Day Lewis. "Fiero worship, fear. compassion. the divided mind. a prevailing sense of the transience of things. and how, whatever its apparent focus of' the moment — polities, the birth of a child, love for a woman, youthful memories, the apprehension or impact of war — however much its style is altered from time to time by the demands of some new experience or tailing passion. there runs through it all, an unbroken thread, the search for personal identity, the poet's relentless compulsion to know himself."