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This article is taken from PN Review 8, Volume 5 Number 4, July - September 1979.

Early Auden John Haffenden

FOR THE first time in a generation we are enabled to judge the entire span of W. H. Auden's poetry of the Thirties. In accordance with Auden's wishes, Professor Mendelson has recently given us the Collected (revised standard) Poems, including posthumous additions. Now The English Auden runs from the beginnings through to those poems from Another Time (1940) written before Auden's departure for the United States of America in 1939. Poems (1930) is happily recovered in this volume: Auden set out as a social reformer, and presently married-in a style crisply his own-ideas and manners derived from Skelton and Lawrence, the sagas and John Layard, among others. Young Auden was wise to bullying, and preferred always to cultivate rather than to impose correction. What are often taken to be the impenetrable conundra of Poems are actually a coherent sequence of verses which regrets and chastises the status quo. In strait structures, his appositional clauses and phrases being sometimes bafflingly paratactic, he laid down themes which grew naturally into the later, more discursive, meditative-reflective works. In the poem originally called "The Malverns" (1933), for instance, the pensive inadequacy of the figure who stands "on the cropped grass of the narrow ridge" can be seen as subject to a moral assailment continuous with that directed at the reader of poem XVIII (1929):


On narrowness stand, for sunlight is
brightest only on surfaces;
No anger, no traitor, but peace.


Just as the ...


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