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This article is taken from PN Review 267, Volume 49 Number 1, September - October 2022.

Mr W. H. Jeffrey Meyers
W.H. Auden, Poems. Volume I, 1927–1939 and Volume II, 1940–1973, ed. Edward Mendelson (Princeton), £48 each

In his Preface to Collected Poetry (1945) W.H. Auden observed that an author’s work falls into four classes.  First, ‘the pure rubbish’; second, the good ideas that came to nothing; third, the pieces that lack importance; fourth, ‘those poems for which he is honestly grateful’.  Despite his impressive success, he was always severely critical of his poetry.  Never quite satisfied, he frequently revised after publication.  This superb 1,946-page edition confirms that Auden looked far out and in deep.  His technical skill, ideacles, intelligence and wit made him the greatest English-language poet born in the twentieth century.  

Edward Mendelson writes that ‘[t]his edition contains all the poems that Auden published in books, magazines and newspapers; also the few poems that he submitted for publication but which for various reasons did not appear; and the few poems that he sent to friends as what he called “posthumous” poems for publication after his death’.  During Mendelson’s painstaking and perfect work of several decades, he even tracked down privately owned manuscripts for the detailed textual notes on Auden’s dates and places of composition, publication history and extensive revisions.  To make this edition complete, he acknowledges the inclusion of poems from Katherine Bucknell’s edition of Juvenilia (1994, expanded in 2003).  The 570 pages of textual notes are mainly of interest to scholars.  The only error I noticed is that Dale Wasserman was the writer, not the producer, of Man of La Mancha (II.1091).

Since (by Auden’s request) there is no edition ...

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