10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I have been a fan of Auden for a couple of years now, but had never had the heart to try and tackle any of his longer poems, until now! I don't think 'Age of Anxiety' is a place to start for those who have never encountered Auden before, but, if you, like me, have gobbled up some of his shorter fare and are hungry for something epic, look no further!
Firstly, having it in a separate codex from an anthology aids the 'i can do this!' factor, and a really quite handsome edition makes the experience additonally pleasurable. However, by far the greatest help, and what made the poem accessible to me for the first time was the guidance of Dr. Jacobs throughout. In both his introduction and his frequently extremely helpful end-notes, passages which I could barely make heads or tails of (that is, since I lack Auden's insanely broad erudition) turned into thought-provoking reflections.
About the poem itself -- Since anxiety is timeless (Cf. the Psalms), this reader found many of the character's reflections perspicuous, but then on a second level -- the poem revealed something about the zeitgeist in the years following WWII that I had never gotten a taste of before (I was born in 1986), and having tasted feel like I know something much more deeply about that era. Also: interesting to see which questions, once at large in a culture, are no longer around; i got the sense that we (this generation) are in even worse shape since few even pose such questions anymore, even though the conditions which prompted the questioning (the strangeness of a late-Industrial world) are still ever-present.
In the end, as a non-trained poetry reader, I was just about able to get a grasp of this beast of a poem (thanks to Jacobs' help), although I do get the sense that large thematic strains still eluded me, since I just can't hold as much in my brain as Auden could. But, as with many Auden poems, even if the full scope of the text is not quite in view, there are plenty of "nugget" take-away lines; that ability Auden has to sum up huge, chthonic concepts in single epigraph-like lines. A couple of my favorites: "The bruise of his boyhood is as blue still." , "He hoped for Her Heart but He overbid." , "the new barbarian../..does not emerge From fir forests; factories bred him." , "the ego is a dream / Till a neighbor's need by name create it."
I could go on. Auden is one of the few poets who is able to, in a line, capture the most personal pains and the most lofty philosophical dilemmas. It's staggering really. However, for the purposes of this review: I recommend the poem, but I *highly* recommend this edition.
(full disclosure: Dr. Jacobs was an old professor of mine (2008); his class on Auden was one of the highlights of my education. Also, Mr. Maynard, disappointed reviewer, though my text-critical chops are not developed enough to take you on, I am unable to let "his perhaps too narrowly literary background" stand; I think, if you'll look at the variety of things he writes for, you will find that Dr. Jacobs is the exact opposite of your description, in fact -- me and my friends have a running joke that any publication you pick-up, Jacobs has an article in it! So, readers, don't believe the ad hominem)
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
This is an elegant new critical edition of Auden's final book-length poem, published originally in 1947 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. The typesetting, pages, binding, and dustjacket are beautifully produced, and the extensive new introduction and detailed annotations convey their formidable scholarship with a light touch. This republication is intended "to aid those who would like to read the poem rather than sagely cite its title." That comment (from the introduction) indicates something of the poem's status -- its title, at least, is frequently invoked -- but also, perhaps, the ease with which many readers, fixated on the title alone, may miss the resolution (if that's the best word for it) that two of its protagonists find in their final soliloquies.
The poem is largely set in a bar on Third Avenue in New York City during the Second World War, and it unfolds as the conversation of four of the bar's patrons, Quant, Malin, Rosetta, and Emble. Each character (based on a Jungian type) is given a prose introduction. For example, Emble is said to suffer "from that anxiety about himself and his future which haunts, like a bad smell, the minds of most young men, though most of them are under the illusion that their lack of confidence is a unique and shameful fear which, if confessed, would make them an object of derision to their normal contemporaries." And following this stage-setting, the poem explores its themes by way of the private thoughts and dialogue of these four conversation partners.
Any resolution the poem offers isn't straightforward or uncomplicated. But the poem does suggest, as the editor says, echoing Eliot's "Burnt Norton," that at least two of its characters "find only one still point." Rosetta, without turning a blind eye to the suffering of her fellow Jews in Nazi Germany, riffs on Psalm 139: "Though I fly to Wall Street / Or Publisher's Row, or pass out, or / Submerge in music, or marry well, / Marooned on riches, He'll be right there / With His Eye upon me. Should I hide away / My secret sins in consulting rooms, / My fears are before Him; He'll find all, / Ignore nothing." And Malin, in a Christian idiom, concludes: "In our anguish we struggle / To elude Him, to lie to Him, yet His love observes / His appalling promise...." (Auden noted in a letter that Quant's "defence against the contemporary scene is to make it frivolous where Malin [and Rosetta as well] tries to see it sub specie aeternitate [from the perspective of eternity].")
The poem is as demanding and elusive as any I've encountered, resisting any and all facile interpretations, but this edition will make returning to it for rereading a pleasure.