''To read Randall Jarrell on W. H. Auden is to read the best-equipped of American critics of poetry of the past century on the best-equipped of its Anglo-American poets, and we rush to read, perhaps, less out of an academic interest in fair judgment than out of a spectator's love of virtuosity in flight.'' From Adam Gopnik's foreword
Randall Jarrell was one of the most important poet-critics of the past century, and the poet who most fascinated and infuriated him was W. H. Auden. In Auden, Jarrell found a crucial poetic influence that needed to be both embraced and resisted. During the 1940s, Jarrell wrestled with Auden's work, writing a series of notorious articles on Auden that remain admired and controversial examples of devoted and contentious criticism. While Jarrell never completed his proposed book on Auden, these previously unpublished lectures revise and reprise his earlier articles and present new insights into Auden's work. Delivered at Princeton University in 1951 and 1952, Jarrell's lectures reflect a passionate appreciation of Auden's work, a witty attack from an informed opponent, and an important document of a major poet's reception.
Jarrell's lectures offer readings of many of Auden's works, including all of his long poems, and illuminate his singular use of a variety of stylistic registers and poetic genres. In the lecture based on the article ''Freud to Paul,'' Jarrell traces the ideas and ideologies that animated and, at times, overwhelmed Auden's poetry. More precisely, he considers the influence of left-liberal politics, psychoanalytic and evolutionary theory, and the idiosyncratic Christian theology that characterized Auden's poems of the 1940s.
While an admiring and sympathetic reader, Jarrell does not avoid identifying Auden's poetic failures and political excesses. He offers occasionally blistering assessments of individual poems and laments Auden's turn from a cryptic, feeling, impassioned poet to a rhetorical, self-conscious one. Stephen Burt's introduction provides a backdrop to the lectures and their reception and importance for the history of modern poetry.
"W. H. Auden's debut as a poet, in 1928, was the most prodigious since Byron's. When he arrived on the American scene in 1939, he continued to dazzle readers in this country--none more so than Randall Jarrell, who had been reading and admiring him from the start. Auden's triumphal march across the next decade, though, began to disconcert Jarrell, and these Princeton lectures are the record of his mixed feelings. His readings are bracing, and his conclusions misjudged, but where else will one encounter a major poet so intimately engaged with the work of another? We're told that, informed of Jarrell's attacks. Auden merely shrugged, "I think Jarrell must be in love with me," and in a crucial sense he was right." — J. D. McClatchy, Yale Review
"This set of critical engagements, published here for the first time, allows one to start right in the middle of two mid-century titans." — Publishers Weekly
"This collection is first-rate scholarship... Jarrell is more than a virtuoso performing here." — Jon Tribble, Washington Post Book World
"Jarrell was enthralled, dazzled and infuriated by Auden... and these lectures... encompass both his admiration and his reservation." — London Review of Books
"This volume may be slim, but it is substantial, a happy addition to Jarrell's criticism." — Magill Book Reviews
"Painstakingly pieced together, these fascinating lectures represent a titanic clash between two of the most brilliant literary minds of the twentieth century. Randall Jarrell incisively probes the ethics, psychology, and aesthetics of W. H. Auden's poetry, and even when Jarrell's judgments seem vexed, his wit and intelligence dazzle." — Jahan Ramazani, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of English, University of Virginia
"Jarrell's brilliant long essays on Auden's stylistic and philosophical development have become classics of mid-century criticism. These six lectures extend the essays in their evaluative force, lightning insight and generalizing power. He invites us not only to measure but to understand, as in Lecture Six when he walks us through the difficult terrain of Paid on Both Sides. Jarrell's Auden is a poet (like Jarrell himself) working out a moral vision for his time, and developing a language for that vision. Jarrell portrays Auden with the utmost respect, as a truly human poet whose errancy becomes part of his nobility. One senses the resistance, at times, of a poet-critic wary of another poet's strong influence. Yet in holding Auden to his own highest standard, indeed to the highest standard of English poetry, Jarrell is always illuminating. Stephen Burt's introduction provides the full story of these lectures, and of Jarrell's life-long preoccupation with Auden's work; the detailed, reliable notes answer every question and comprise a concise chapter of literary history." — Bonnie Costello, author of Shifting Ground: Reinventing Landscape in Modern American Poetry
Foreword by Adam Gopnik
To read Randall Jarrell on W. H. Auden is to read the best-equipped of American critics of poetry of the past century on the best-equipped of its Anglo-American poets, and we rush to read, perhaps, less out of an academic interest in fair judgment than out of a spectator's love of virtuosity in flight. (From the foreword by Adam Gopnik)