Auden and Christianity

Auden and Christianity

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 240
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    Auden and Christianity
    Book Description:

    One of the twentieth century's most important poets, W. H. Auden stands as an eloquent example of an individual within whom thought and faith not only coexist but indeed nourish each other. This book is the first to explore in detail how Auden's religious faith helped him to come to terms with himself as an artist and as a man, despite his early disinterest in religion and his homosexuality.Auden and Christianityshows also how Auden's Anglican faith informs, and is often the explicit subject of, his poetry and prose.

    Arthur Kirsch, a leading Auden scholar, discusses the poet's boyhood religious experience and the works he wrote before emigrating to the United States as well as his formal return to the Anglican Communion at the beginning of World War II. Kirsch then focuses on Auden's criticism and on neglected and underestimated works of the poet's later years. Through insightful readings of Auden's writings and biography, Kirsch documents that Auden's faith and his religious doubt were the matrix of his workandlife.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12865-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxii)

    In a review written in 1941, W. H. Auden chided the “prudery” of “cultured people, to whom . . . theological terms were far more shocking than any of the four-letter words,” “whose childish memories associate religion with vague and pious verbiage.” Such “prudery” has only intensified in recent decades, especially among academics and intellectuals who assume that one cannot be a religious and a thinking person at the same time. Auden stands as an eloquent example of the joining of the two, a modern instance of a person in whom thought and faith not only coexisted, but nourished each...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Early Years
    (pp. 1-38)

    Though generally reticent about his personal life, Auden wrote what he called a “rather shy-making” autobiographical essay about his Christian faith in 1956, observing that “the Christian doctrine of a personal God implies that the relation of every human being to Him is unique and historical, so that any individual who discusses the Faith is compelled to begin with autobiography.” He pointed out that both of his grandfathers and four of his uncles were Anglican priests, and that the atmosphere of his home “was, I should say, unusually devout, though not in the least repressive or gloomy. My parents were...

  6. CHAPTER TWO For the Time Being
    (pp. 39-72)

    The volume entitledFor the Time Being,which was published in 1944, consists of “For the Time Being,” which Auden began writing towards the end of 1941 and finished in July 1942, andThe Sea and the Mirror,which he wrote from October 1942 to February 1944, while he was teaching at Swarthmore College. Auden placed “For the Time Being” last in the volume, though he wrote it first, because he thought that the secular, if religiously informed, exploration of art inThe Sea and the Mirrorshould be a prelude to the manifestly religious representation of the Incarnation in...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Auden’s Criticism
    (pp. 73-108)

    Auden gave many lectures and wrote an enormous number of reviews, essays, and introductions to books by other authors.The Dyer’s Hand,his most important critical work, is composed of pieces he had previously delivered or published. He followed no critical school whatsoever, and the occasional character of his criticism was deliberate. In his brief preface toThe Dyer’s Hand,he wrote, “A poem must be a closed system, but there is something, in my opinion, lifeless, even false, about systematic criticism”; and he told Alan Ansen that he did not write out his lectures on Shakespeare at the New...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR “Horae Canonicae”
    (pp. 109-140)

    As Ursula Niebuhr observed, Auden’s Christianity was far too exploratory and capacious to be pigeonholed. He can be said to have veered between the Anglican and Roman Churches during much of his lifetime, but in significant respects his religious thinking always comprehended both. He told Golo Mann that “in each of us, there is a bit of a Catholic and a bit of a Protestant; for truth is catholic, but the search for it is protestant,” and he consistently saw the relation between the catholic truth and the protestant search dialectically. As he said, analogously and repeatedly, “the Way” rests...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Later Years
    (pp. 141-166)

    In the later years of his life Auden’s work is characterized by an increasing acceptance of himself, and a corresponding religious sense of gratitude. In his poems, with a few notable exceptions, he writes more genially of his body, attends lovingly to the domestic circumstances of his daily life, and is disposed to write uncomplicated devotional verse. He becomes increasingly interested in forgiveness, thankfulness, and prayer. The first poem in “Profile,” for example, an autobiographical collection of haiku he began in 1965 or 1966, is an ironic prayer:

    He thanks God daily

    that he was born and bred

    a British...

    (pp. 167-180)

    In one of the many autobiographical haiku he wrote toward the end of his life, Auden said that

    His thoughts pottered

    from verses to sex to God

    without punctuation.

    The progression of thought Auden describes is true to much of his poetry. It also, unfortunately, can be offensive to some readers and critics. The lack of punctuation, the conjunction of his homosexuality and his Christian faith, and perhaps most of all, the doubts that his intellectual consciousness brought to bear on all three subjects—verses, sex, and God—can appear to reflect an absence of seriousness and integrity, though this...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 181-198)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 199-207)