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This article is taken from PN Review 73, Volume 16 Number 5, May - June 1990.

The American Auden Herbert Lomas

There is a notion in England that when Auden went to the United States his best work was very nearly, if not completely, over. For Julian Symons, something survived 'as late as The Sea and the Mirror of 1942-4' - though this is actually five years after he settled in America. 'Afterwards there were some fine, and very many accomplished poems, but poems lacking any true centre of thought and feeling' (TLS, 22 March 1985, p . 305)

Symons was one of those who, in the 1930s, thought of Auden as not only a great poet but a wise man, an 'instructor'. 'Self-deceit' he considers that now: more, it almost seems, on other evidence than the surviving poems: on the grounds of a general disillusionment with the, for him, surprising, unpredictable, and unsatisfactory direction of Auden's thought, belief, life and style.

Disillusionment with Auden is not unrelated to his supposed defection from England in 1939. Auden was felt to have deserted his country in its time of agony. There were hostile comments in the press. Even his friend Cyril Connolly characterized Auden and Isherwood, in Horizon, as 'ambitious young men with a strong instinct of self-preservation and an eye on the main chance'. In the House of Commons, Sir Jocelyn Lucas suggested depriving Auden and Isherwood of their citizenship. Auden was not an artist working out the problems of his vocation but a deserter from austerity and even a coward - though, of course, it ...

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