The Age of Auden

The Age of Auden: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    The Age of Auden
    Book Description:

    W. H. Auden's emigration from England to the United States in 1939 marked more than a turning point in his own life and work--it changed the course of American poetry itself.The Age of Audentakes, for the first time, the full measure of Auden's influence on American poetry. Combining a broad survey of Auden's midcentury U.S. cultural presence with an account of his dramatic impact on a wide range of younger American poets--from Allen Ginsberg to Sylvia Plath--the book offers a new history of postwar American poetry.

    For Auden, facing private crisis and global catastrophe, moving to the United States became, in the famous words of his first American poem, a new "way of happening." But his redefinition of his work had a significance that was felt far beyond the pages of his own books. Aidan Wasley shows how Auden's signal role in the work and lives of an entire younger generation of American poets challenges conventional literary histories that place Auden outside the American poetic tradition. In making his case, Wasley pays special attention to three of Auden's most distinguished American inheritors, presenting major new readings of James Merrill, John Ashbery, and Adrienne Rich. The result is a persuasive and compelling demonstration of a novel claim: In order to understand modern American poetry, we need to understand Auden's central place within it.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3635-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Abbreviation
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxii)
  5. PROLOGUE: Auden in “Atlantis”
    (pp. 1-30)

    When W. H. Auden sailed out of Southampton on January 19, 1939 he was doing more than simply leaving behind friends, family, and a record of poetic achievement that had made him already, at the age of 32, England’s most prominent and influential public poet. When he arrived in a wintry New York harbor a week later, he was embarking on a quest of poetic and self-reinvention that would change the course of American poetry. Auden’s emigration from England, and his arrival in America, marked a crucial moment in twentieth-century literary history, when the heir apparent to T. S. Eliot...

  6. Part I
    • 1 A Way of Happening: Auden’s American Presence
      (pp. 33-74)

      In May of 1946, a young American poetry critic offered this enthusiastic review ofFor the Time Being, Auden’s second published volume since moving to the United States seven years before:

      Auden’s poetry has always aroused much interest, the more so because Auden’s personality and technique and opinions have been so flexible. He has been consistently evolving toward disciplined, responsible utterance, and away from slipshod emotional crisis, overconscious penitence, tender despondency and nostalgia.Another TimeandNew Year Letterassume power as statements of transition to mastery of personal sorrow and insight into general terror. The tentative accomplishment of this...

  7. Part II
    • 2 Father of Forms: Merrill, Auden, and a Fable of Influence
      (pp. 77-108)

      For Auden’s sixty-fifth birthday in 1972, James Merrill contributed a poem called “Table Talk” to a festschrift marking the occasion. In keeping with the festive moment celebrating Auden’s presence and influence on the American poetic landscape for more than three decades, Merrill’s poem describes a lavish, lively dinner party. Presided over by “Charles,” a character who shares his name with Merrill’s famous financier father and who appears in a number of his poems as a kind of super-refined fictive version of Merrill himself, the poem begins with the host discoursing to his guests upon the hazards of a sophisticated palate:...

    • 3 The Gay Apprentice: Ashbery, Auden, and a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Critic
      (pp. 109-144)

      It is a well-rehearsed episode in the history of postwar American poetry that W. H. Auden selected John Ashbery for the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1956, inaugurating the younger writer’s public career as the most honored and influential American poet of his generation. What is less well-known by readers and critics, however, is that Ashbery had chosen Auden more than a decade earlier. While critical accounts of Ashbery’s poetics have often, and justifiably, emphasized his connections to Wallace Stevens, Ashbery himself claims Auden as his most significant poetic model. “He was the first big influence on my work, more...

    • 4 The Old Sources: Rich, Auden, and Making Something Happen
      (pp. 145-174)

      In her 1999 volume of poems,Midnight Salvage, Adrienne Rich addresses her words—as she often does—to another poet:

      Would it gladden you to think

      poetry could purely

      take its place beneath lightning sheets

      or fogdrip live its own life

      screamed at, howled down

      by a torn bowel of dripping names

      —composers visit Terezin, film-makers Sarajevo

      Cabrini-Green or Edenwald Houses


      if a woman as vivid as any artist

      can fling any day herself from the 14th floor

      would it relieve you to decidePoetry

      doesn’t make this happen?[MS, 26]

      In this poem, decades into her celebrated poetic...

  8. EPILOGUE: He Became His Admirers: Saying Goodbye to Auden
    (pp. 175-208)

    The first poem Auden wrote in America was an elegy. “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” proposes, in terms that resound through postwar American poetry, that “poetry makes nothing happen” yet can still be “a way of happening, a mouth.” It also asserts that, in death, Yeats “became his admirers” by having only his words—all that remains of him—“modified in the guts of the living” who continue to read him. With this famously unsentimental leave-taking of the dead elder poet, Auden rewrites the rules of the modern elegy while announcing his own farewell to the poetic career he...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 209-242)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 243-258)