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This review is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.

AUDEN, FIERCELY Edward Mendelson, Early Auden (Faber) £10.00

New biographies and collections of letters and books of criticism are an occasion to make up one's mind about a poet and his work, but that is often a crushing or flattening process. I see no reason to make up my mind yet about Auden, and little possibility of doing so. His life and thoughts were so entangled in his poems, and displayed through such a multitude of moods and themes, and he was humanly so vulnerable and died so short a time ago, that the final criticisms will have to wait a while. For the present Professor Mendelson's long, musing study is as much as we need. No one was in a better position to write it; his familiarity with the poems in all their states, with the unpublished papers and with everything else to do with Auden, and the help he sought for and received from Auden's friends and disciples, qualified him rather uniquely for this task.

For the physical facts about Auden's life one must still consult Carpenter's book, and for a critical introduction to the poems John Fuller's comparatively short book is still the most valuable. Professor Mendelson proceeds with a dreamlike clarity and apparent confusion, but it is amazing how much his meditations encompass. He is readable and fascinating and thought-provoking. A more incisive portrait of Auden as a poet might have been more convincing, but it would also have been less moving and less interesting. Not that there remains any great ...


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