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Auden, W(ystan) H(ugh) 1907–1973

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An Anglo-American poet, essayist, playwright, critic, editor, librettist, scriptwriter, and translator, Auden exerted a major influence on the poetry of the twentieth century. His poetry centers around moral issues and evidences Auden's strong political, social, and psychological orientations. The teachings of Marx and Freud weigh heavily in his earlier work, but later give way to religious and spiritual influences. Auden was an antiromantic, a poet of analytical clarity. He sought order, and for universal patterns of human existence. For this reason, some of his work has been criticized as overly detached and facile. Auden's poetry is versatile and inventive, ranging from the tersely epigrammatic to book-length verse, and incorporating his vast scientific knowledge. He collaborated with Christopher Isherwood and Louis MacNeice, and has joined with Chester Kallman to create libretti for works by Benjamin Britten, Stravinsky, and Mozart. He received the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1948, and the National Book Award in 1956. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 45-48.)

Dr. Narsingh Srivastava

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1564

Symbolisation of landscape is one of the major structural patterns in the poetry of W. H. Auden. Aware as he has ever been of the inadequacy of the direct statement for the purposes of poetic art, he has been in search of poetic devices that can fittingly incarnate the ideas about the major situations of the day as well as the universal truths of human psyche and life. Symbolisation of landscape is a method of turning the abstraction into a concrete form and thereby making them take on a new identity. The visual becomes conceptual in the sense that it involves thinking in physical terms of things that are psychic or spiritual…. In [Auden's] poetry, city, like island, mountain, valley, frontier and garden, is an important geographical image which he uses as embodiment of psychic and spiritual states.

Auden uses the city image both in terms of the actual and as symbol of some social, moral or spiritual state…. We notice in his early poetry that the city image is related, on the one hand, to Auden's symbol of the hero—both false and true—who assumes the role of a prospective saviour of the city, and, on the other, to the image of the island which is embodiment of selfish isolation and escape. Thus, this spatial image signifies the normal social and moral life of a community which, by exercise of human will, may either attain its ideal form—the just city, the good place or the city of God—or may degrade into a ruinous order of a moral and spiritual decadence. (p. 86)

[Auden's] view of the significance of the city symbol is much broader and more concrete than any vague and abstract utopian scheme. The significance of this symbol lies in Auden's emphasis on the relation of the individual to society as well as to his own self; and thus this image like many others that we come across in Auden's poetry, enables him to organise his moral and spiritual experience in a concrete pattern. Except in a few poems of places written on particular cities where focus of emphasis is thrown on the place rather than on its emblematic significance, the city image is used in a symbolic frame of reference. (p. 87)

In Auden's early poetry, the city is generally the actual city which is devoid of the values of the ideal and that is why it is disordered, dirty and immoral. In poem XXII of Poems , the images of smokeless chimneys, damaged bridges, locked and deserted power stations picture the industrial ruin, and form a sinister landscape suggestive of moral decadence of the upper classes…. [In] Poem...

(The entire section contains 9343 words.)

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W. H. Auden Contemporary Criticism (Vol. 6)