“A new music” — Brad Leithauser on the late W.H. Auden


A few days ago I mentioned W.H. Auden — but I didn’t name the poem I was citing.  It’s the “Nones” section from his Horae Canonicae, written between 1949 and 1955 the whole thing is here. It’s gorgeous, and I adore it, though it is part of his much-disparaged “late poetry.”

So I was pleased to read  Brad Leithauser‘s  Wall Street Journal review of Aidan Wasley‘s Age of Auden (Princeton University Press):

“Mr. Wasley takes a dim view of Auden’s final years. The once innovative poet was left behind; he receded into ‘cultural conservatism and contented domesticity.’ He became a ‘figure of sad diminishment.’ This is a plausible view—probably a majority view. But a notable minority feels otherwise. Two of the poets Mr. Wasley embraces, James Merrill and Anthony Hecht, saw the old master further extending himself in his final decade, discovering a new music— a strain of poetry that blended heartbreak with aplomb. The poem ‘A Lullaby,’ in which Auden wittily sings himself to sleep (‘Let your last thoughts all be thanks’), is a haunting example.

Though Auden’s influence is powerful and broad, The Age of Auden helpfully delineates its borders. The battle of literary reputations takes place in a dusty arena, and W. H. Auden will surely be one of those titanic figures that loom through whatever dim clouds arise. He will remain unignorable.”

(Picture of the elder Wystan at left.  Toward the end of his life, he described his face as looking like “a wedding cake left out in the rain.”)

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