Page 6, 7th November 1969

7th November 1969
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Page 6, 7th November 1969 — POET CHANGES KEY
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POET CHANGES KEY

by ELIZABETH JENNINGS

City Without Walls by W. H. Auden (Faber 20s.) IT is rather alarming when a potentially major poet changes into a good minor one. This, I think, is what has happened to W. H. Auden.

He was the great promise and hope of the Thirties. During the last war, he was mostly in the United States, and he now lives in Austria. What has happened to the great enchantment, the large delight? I do not really know. I only know that poets are fragile beings and that it does not take much to hurt them.

Mr, Auden is, of course, far from destroyed, but he is not producing the major poems which we had hoped would come from his later years. It seems to me that now his subtlest and most interesting ideas (he has always been an intellectual poet) come out of his lectures and essays. This, I think, can be seen in that splendid prose book, The Dyer's Hand. There was real brilliance, originality, and inspiration.

Personally, I think he has written great poems, such as In Memory of W. B. Yeats and In Memory of Sigmund Freud, and many other pieces, but I do not 'believe that he has built up that world picture which every great poet must build, whether he is Shakespeare or Eliot.

One thing that seems faulty in Mr. Auden's new poems is their air of withdrawal; one seldom feels the presence of the poet himself. One admires the skill, yes, but one misses what I can only call the humanity.

Cyril Connolly wrote almost a whole book — Enemies of Promise — devoted to the dangers to the artist. One danger remember, was the pram in the hall! But Mr. Auden's problem is much deepen. Did he arrive in the wrong period? Was he too unhappy?

Such questions are really unanswerable, but one can, at least, say that this poet, even at his most mediocre, still can amaze us.




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