No poet writing in English is more representative of the intellectual trends of the thirties and forties than W. H. Auden. British born, Oxford educated, American by naturalization, and now returned to Oxford to occupy the chair of poetry, he is widely regarded as the spiritual guide and keeper of the conscience of the age, at the same time that he exemplifies the gradual passage from ideological left to right so characteristic of the period. This study of Auden’s poetry and revisions has far-reaching implications for an understanding not only of Auden’s own writing but that of his contemporaries as well. Considering that 1945 Collected Poetry as the Auden canon, or authorized version of the poems, Mr. Beach examines the process by which Auden selected poems to be admitted to the canon. He shows that the poet eliminated many that were at odds with his later style and thought, discreetly revised others to bring them into line, and, at the same time, left unaltered some of the pieces from his unregenerate days. Auden’s sytem of selection and revision reflects the winding course of his thought, and, by tracing this course, Mr. Beach endeavors to penetrate the poet’s diverse masks in an effort to get at the identity of t he man himself.
Making of the Auden canon