W. H. Auden’s work in many ways contradicts the Romantic view that a poem should be an emotional outpouring, a sincere expression of pure subjectivity. Instead, he said, poetry is a “game of knowledge,” a clear-eyed way of approaching objective truth.
In his own poems, this truth often adopted a moral or social guise. “Poetry,” Auden wrote, “is a way of extending our knowledge of good and evil.” Many of his poems are intended to help men and women make good moral choices, even though the way by which the poems do this is not always clear. Nevertheless, the body of Auden’s poetry is exemplary for its vivid and strongly felt social conscience. His work also is marked by his fine ear and his instinct for rhythm, structure, and sound. This seamless joining of intelligence and verbal music signals that Auden is one of the master craftsmen of modern poetry.