Updated: Jul 25
One thinks of Auden—I think of Auden—as a brilliant and consummate craftsman, an often witty and tender poet, a master of more forms than perhaps any poet of the 20th century, author of some of the greatest poems of the century, a man with talent to spare. Among the great poets he is not quite of the company of Eliot, Pound, Stevens, and Williams, but it’s fair to say that he ranks along with Hart Crane as a dominating force on successive generations of writers at least as much as they.
But I do not think of Auden as having a part in the tragic human poetic drama of pain and love and art: no Maud Gonne like Yeats, no Vivienne like Elliot, no stroke like Dr. Williams. No “Mad Ireland” to hurt him into poetry. He seems more self-contained than any of them, enjoying perhaps but not needing others, needing only to write his verses. A dedicated professional, a one-time radical, tamed somewhat by his late conversion into the Anglican Church. He seemed to move through the world well-protected by his mental facilities, not deranged like many of his peers, not harmed by events.
And yet, that cannot be the whole story. There is always more to any l