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The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (W.H. Auden: Critical Editions) Paperback – 2 Oct 2005


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"The Sea and the Mirror is the most brilliant and unsettling of the four long poems Auden composed during his furiously industrious first decade in America . . . an intriguing mixture of the theatrical and the poetic. . . . [It] represents his most determined and considered attempt to 'grow up,' but it moves most by its failure to do so."--Mark Ford, New York Review of Books

"[An] excellent and beautifully produced edition. . . . The Sea and the Mirror has ambitions far above those which the modest label of 'A commentary' might suggest, and it attempts to clarify an entire aesthetic, both for the poet himself and (on a more abstract level) for all poetry and art in its relation to reality. Nor was this a question of aesthetics only, for Auden was determined that this work should offer a distinctively Christian philosophy of art, one which could announce, and validate, an entirely new depth and seriousness to his own life and writing."--Peter McDonald, Times Literary Supplement

"Even for those of us whose minds aren't particularly philosophical, The Sea and the Mirror can appeal through its language alone: It contains some of the poet's most accomplished verse, at once pellucid and delicately musical. . . . [R]ead The Sea and the Mirror--you will return to it, as with Auden's other poetry, all your life. You can find the text in various Auden collections, but you'll never regret investing in this handsome edition of these tender, heartbroken poems."--Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

From the Back Cover

"It is wonderful to have this new edition of The Sea and the Mirror, which I have always considered Auden's greatest work written in America and certainly one of the summits of his career. The long speech of Caliban, channeling Henry James, is in itself a marvelment."--John Ashbery

"The most significant of all Auden's unpatriotic Shakespearean forays of the 1940s, The Sea and the Mirror is a work of enormous skill, learning, and intelligence, a stylistic tour de force that is also freakish, polemical, confessional, and open-ended. It is a poem that comes much nearer to being a major salvo in Auden's cultural war with Little Englandism than it does to being the modest academic 'commentary' that on the title page it rather deviously declares itself to be. Arthur Kirsch's edition of this work is a fine addition to the canon of Auden scholarship. This book will fascinate all readers of Auden, and of Shakespeare."--Nicholas Jenkins


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Stay with me, Ariel, while I pack, and with your first free act Delight my leaving; share my resigning thoughts As you have served my revelling wishes: then, brave spirit, Ages to you of song and daring, and to me Briefly Milan, then earth. Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Auden's Christian Conception of Art ......BUT 30 Sept. 2011
By M. Hurley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book,'The Sea and the Mirror'', is billed as 'A Commentary on Shakespeare's play 'The Tempest''; a 50 page introduction (by Arthur Kirsch) and 30 pages of textual notes to support a 70 page poem in three chapters; in other words it is not for the novitiate. It is a poem but a poem written in part prose, Auden does for the Tempest what Joyce did in his work, i.e. mimic styles, in this case (briefly) that of Henry James so you'd better know your way around if you want to get anything at all out of your purchase. Beautifully bound, a lovely cover (from Princeton UP), it is a piece of art but it will not supply anything general, or any clues to the man or his times, so know what you are buying. Auden here is tampering with introjects and (so) if you don't already know the territory you will not find a map here.(Think of a surgeon operating on himself while describing the scene, the anatomy lesson by Dr Tulp, maybe...)

Written during the second war (1942-1944), Auden regarded it as his best work, his Ars Poetica, culminating in his year long lecture series at the New School for Social Research delivered in 1946-47, according to Kirsch. Written after emigrating to the US, one suspects the work was motivated by his then belief that 'poetry makes nothing happen', which (imo) better describes his subjective state after a very frustrating decade, the 1930's. In Act I of the Tempest, Prospero says 'I, thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated to closeness and the bettering of my mind with that which, but by being so retires, oer'-priz'd all popular rate....etc., Here Prospero admits neglecting his kingdom, allowing his brother to usurp him etc., you just wish Auden might have made a similar concession and not made up his mind that art was futile i.e. frivolous. Still, if you like stylistic innovation and Christian poetics, this is the meal for you.

-Í am attempting something which in a way is absurd, to show in a work of art, the limitations of art', explained Auden. Kirsch explains that in the concluding lecture to his New School course he praised Shakespeare for his consciousness of these limitations. 'There's something a little irritating in the determination of the very great artists, like Dante, Joyce and Milton, to create masterpieces and to think themselves important. To be able to devote one's life to art without forgetting that art is frivolous is a tremendous achievement of personal character. Shakespeare never takes himself too seriously". Hmm..

It sounds like Auden's lecture series would be 'more fun' than The Sea and the Mirror, doesn't it. (Unavailable, I think, maybe at the Berg Library but Randall Jarrell's lecture series on Auden was recently published and that's more readable and nicely irreverent). Auden's comment on frivolity etc., has to be taken with a grain of yes, sea salt, and Auden probably needed to take a look in the, yes, mirror when he was making these remarks but, after all, if we believe him, it is all supposed to be frivolous, isn't it? Answer -NO. Nobody believes his obsession with 'fun, 'but, of course, he was merely railing against circumstance, and who can blame him really.

Great, but only IF you first know your way around.
1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare's "The Tempest" by W. H. Auden 11 Aug. 2013
By Anne M. Sarapas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was disappointed in this book. There were some parts I enjoyed but I felt it was a bit heavy and dragging.
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