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This review is taken from PN Review 41, Volume 11 Number 3, January - February 1985.

GAMES AND GRAMMAR Edward Callan, Auden: a Carnival of Intellect (Oxford) £12.50

Carnival is a time for misbehaving and breaking the rules, but intellect controls and restrains. The subtitle of this study of Auden risks dragging incompatibles together, rather than devising an illuminating paradox. Callan discusses the whole of Auden's work, placing a particular emphasis on the long poems, the sequences and the cycles of related poems. Because Auden published only two such long works in the 1930s, 'Paid on Both Sides' and The Orators, as well as the 'Sonnets from China' sequence, it follows that this book is chiefly a revaluation of Auden's later writing, where long poems predominate. These are not the poems upon which Auden's reputation now rests, or has ever rested, a situation Mr Callan would evidently like to change. His interest is in the theological content of the poetry written in America. He therefore works backwards, intellectually speaking, finding the important themes in the later work, and searching the earlier writings for attitudes compatible with them: the later poetry searches for 'psychic unity', the earlier is found to deal with ideas about the healing capacity of the unconscious. The importance of Auden's political poetry is consistently diminished because it sets out to oppose rather than to reconcile. This is a politically conservative and Christian reading of the poetry, built on a largely uncritical acceptance of Auden's later thinking about the limited public role of poetry.

The turning point in Auden's outlook is not, for Callan, his abandonment of England and of left-wing politics in ...


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