THIS volume is a selection, rather than a complete collection, of the poetry Mr. Auden has so far written. He has omitted many poems, some of which were valuable chiefly as technical experiments, and some of which were unsuccessful because their references were too obscure. He has added a number of previously unpublished poems.
The selection is excellently made, and the volume firmly establishes Mr, Auden as the most exciting poet of his generation. He is that rare being among contemporary poets — a real professional. He has attacked, and nearly always mastered, a remarkably wide variety of technical forms, from the simplicity of the ballad to the rigorous complexity of the canzone; he has been acutely conscious of contemporary thought, in science, psychology, polities, and religion; he has developed with faithful concentration the particular poetic personality he was originally endowed with, always striving to make the word both delightful and true.
Goethe described the poetry of Byron as full of “daring, dash, and grandiosity.”The first two words apply admirably to the poetry of Mr. Auden; they fit both his technique and his thought. He is always, one feels, expanding his consciousness to an awareness of fresh relationships —between words, images, and concepts — and at the same time he is holding those relationships to an increasingly firm center. His acceptance of Christian dogma has provided the center; his very lively and vigorous mind and imagination perceive the fresh relationships, which are all the more fresh and daring because they are united at the core, like the ropes of a balloon all tied to the same basket.
There are, to be sure, some present weaknesses and some inherent dangers in this collection of Mr. Auden’s poetry. There is obscurity; there is a tendency toward a rather special use of abstract words (at its best highly provocative and successful, but sometimes too like a mannerism); there is at times a lack of weight where weight is wanted—the specific gravity of Mr. Auden’s poetry is not so great as that of Mr. Eliot. But these things do not destroy the impression of authority, vitality, and richness which this volume gives. Random House, $3.75.