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The intellectual background of the poetry of W.H. Auden

Davison, Trevor (1974) The intellectual background of the poetry of W.H. Auden. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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Abstract

‘Intellectual background' refers to the ideologies upon which Auden draws and the poetic theory arising from the interaction of these ideas and his practice. The thesis is divided into four chapters, the first dealing with Auden's introduction to poetry in 1922 and his subsequent imitation of Hardy and Eliot. Eliot's theory of impersonality and the austerity of Saga literature produce a clinical effect in Poems 1928. The Norse mood dominates the charade Paid on Both Sides (I930) which uses material from the Mummer's play and contemporary German theatre. Poems 1930 utilises theories of Blake, Lawrence, Freud, Honer Lane and Groddeck to criticise the depressed social and spiritual state of England. Chapter Two considers The Orators (1932) which demonstrates that oratory, including poetry, is a substitute for action. Didacticism of a new directness marks Auden's first play The Dance of Death (1933), its basis, returned to in On the Frontier (1938), being the Capitalist-Marxist dichotomy. The Dog beneath the Skin (1934) and The Ascent of F6 (1935), written with Isherwood, deal respectively with the necessity of choice and the will for psychic health. Auden's technique becomes more lyrical in Look, Stranger! (1936) and Letters from Iceland (1937) which includes the 'Letter to Lord Byron'. Two works consider actual wars: Spain (1937) dramatises universal guilt and Journey to a War (1938) deals lyrically with the hardships and anomalies of war. The occasional poem is introduced in Another Time (1940). In three long essays the relationship between Christianity, art and Communism is examined. Chapter Three deals with the four long, Christian poems written in America. New Year Letter (l94l) is his longest attempt at philosophising in verse . With copious appended Notes it draws on several theorists and theologians especially Kierkegaard. For the Time Being (1944) takes the form of an oratorio dramatising the mystery of the Incarnation in Kierkegaardian terms. The Sea and the Mirror (1944), a commentary on The Tempest, examines the dichotomy of man's nature and imagination, concluding that art is merely a surrogate of the 'real Word'. The Age of Anxiety (1947) adopts the alliterative style of Old English verse to chart the spiritual journey of four people in wartime. Chapter Four, (1948-1969), examines Auden's collected criticism. The Enchafed Flood (1950) is a collation of stock Romantic images while The Dyer's Hand (1962) comprises aphoristic reflections on art and life, and essays on Shakespeare, America, opera and Christianity, the latter two recurring in Secondary Worlds (1968).The poetry of this period is exuberant, its five books having distinguishable themes. Nones (1951) is concerned with the City and the need to civilise it; The Shield of Achilles (1955) looks to Rome and the Mediterranean; Homage to Clio (1960) meditates on History, Time and Nature; About the House (1966) illustrates the concept of a habitat and City without Walls (1969) includes the more personal self-analyses of the elderly poet. Auden's extreme awareness of his poetic objectives is the main impression left by his writing.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Letters
Thesis Date:1974
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:14 Mar 2014 16:33

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