Later Auden Hardcover – 17 May 1999
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Edward Mendelson's Later Auden finishes the account of the poet that he offered us in Early Auden and takes us from 1939--when Auden arrived in America at the fag-end of the 1930s ("as the clever hopes expire / of a low, dishonest decade")--until his death in 1973 when incorrigible smoking and drinking had ravaged him; as he himself famously remarked "my face looks like a wedding-cake left in the rain".
Mendelson's book is not a biography in the strict sense. Rather it takes its cue from Auden's comment that "for a poet myself, autobiography is redundant, since anything of any importance that happens to one is immediately incorporated, however obscurely, into a poem". Mendelson offers an account of the writing: he demonstrates how and where Auden's life, intellectual development and transient enthusiasms can be observed playing themselves out in the poetry. Mendelson acknowledges his debt to the scholarly apparatus that has been developed over the years by Auden scholars--notably by figures like Nicholas Jenkins, Katherine Bucknell and John Fuller--and his own role as Auden's literary executor ensures that the readings are close and justifiable.
The book begins with a considerable and considered account of the famous elegy "In Memory of W. B. Yeats", with its resonant line that "poetry makes nothing happen". Yeats had died only three days after Auden's arrival in the United States, and Mendelson fascinatingly traces the evolution of Auden's elegy and the way it affected Auden's own edgy poetic aspirations. As the volume continues the ups and downs of Auden's relationships--most notably with Chester Kallman, but also with his own gift--are explored through the poems and vice versa. Auden was intellectually and poetically restless; he employed any verse form he could lay his hands on, invented others and experimented substantially; he had strong but shifting political convictions and also converted to an unpious and undogmatic Christianity. His work ranges from the obscure and philosophically prosaic to the resounding lyrics that have become deservedly famous (not least "Stop all the Clocks", immortalised by actor John Hannah in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral). Many of our younger contemporary poets owe some debt to Auden; Mendelson's patient, informed history of the writing and--by extension--of the man is a welcome and accessible addition to exisiting scholarship and should please admirers of arguably the most influential English poet of the century. --Robert Potts
A history of W.H. Auden's poems from the time he moved to the USA in 1939, and of the events that went into them. It links the changes in Auden's intellectual, religious and domestic life with his shifting public roles, and reveals his struggles with the temptations of his growing fame.See all Product description
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Be warned though that this is a long book, and necessarily so, since it is a nuanced argument. The book is written to be read cover-to-cover, though it can serve as a good reference book for any reader who is already familiar with Auden's work. As literary criticism goes, Mendelson is clear and readable, partly because his interpretation is not controlled by any preconceived literary theory. Some readers may find that the lack of theoretical commitment bothersome, and others may be irritated by Mendelson's frequent focus on a largely biographical reading of Auden's work. But Mendelson's criticism goes a long way toward proving that, in Auden's case at least, interpretation must take biography into account. (Auden once claimed that a poet's biography is of no help in understanding his poetry, but Mendelson shows that this claim is quite untrue as it applies to Auden's own work.) This books is, obviously, a continuation of Mendelson's _Early Auden_, which should be read in conjunction with this book. These two volumes are the definitive works of Auden criticism so far, and along with John Fuller's _W. H. Auden: A Commentary_, they are the best available criticism of Auden's work.