W. H. Auden is perhaps the most important English language poet of the 20th century. He produced marvelous poems—even in his last days. However, critics and reviewers not only have not recognized the aesthetics of the poetry Auden wrote after 1965, but they have ignored or made prejudiced and disparaging remarks about it, thus diverting subsequent critical (and popular) attention from its remarkable virtues. The aim of W. H. Auden’s Poetry: Mythos, Theory, and Practice is to clarify Auden’s career-long interest in poetic theory and, above all, to show how his changing thoughts about poetry impelled him towards the production of the last three volumes of his verse. In his last years, Auden was anxious to share his concerns about poetry and its relation to culture. The things he said and wrote during these years are crucial to an understanding of Auden’s canon as a whole. Those who undervalued the products of his last period effectively obscured significant portions of what he had accomplished earlier as well. Indeed, next to no sustained scholarly attention has been paid to a crucial aspect of Auden’s fame: his virtuoso versification. W. H. Auden’s Poetry: Mythos, Theory, and Practice maps out Auden’s prosodic theories and experiments and seeks to redress the damage done to Auden’s late reputation by critical misprision and consequent neglect.
In his prose works, Auden often commented on the long history and traditional practices of English-language versifying. He reflected on his own century’s poetic needs. Over time, he dropped many hints about his aesthetics and his hopes for translating his thoughts about culture and society into what he came to consider an appropriate poetic style for his own era. Because Auden is such an important 20th-century poet, a study of his wide-ranging reflections on poetry and poetics should be of ample interest.
Because it links the poet’s biographia literaria and his aesthetic vision, this book will appeal to poets as well as to students of writing—particularly those interested in the creative process and its correlation to artistic forms. Students of 20th-century American and British literature will find in these pages a comprehensive survey of Auden’s thoughts about his art and the poetry of his predecessors as well as of his contemporaries. Teachers of Auden’s works will appreciate the strong light such a survey casts on Auden’s poetic practice. Engineers and architects, physicists and biologists, cultural critics, social scientists, philosophers, and especially Gestalt psychologists might well enjoy reading about the ways their fields have intersected and influenced the thinking of one of the twentieth century’s most brilliant and courageous poets.