EPISTLE TO A GODSON by W. H. Auden

EPISTLE TO A GODSON

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KIRKUS REVIEW

There's nothing so bracing as reading a new collection of Auden's poems. He is one of the few poets left who go beyond the surrealist dribblings and apocalyptic scareheads which surround us daily. True, in Epistle to a Godson, he is, as always, up-to-the-minute: ""You don't need me to tell you what's/ going on: the ochlocratic media,/joint with under-the-dryer gossip,/ process and vent without intermission/ all to-day's ugly secrets. . . ."" But these wry, satirically shamefaced references to the contemporary malaise never become an end in themselves. Auden knows all about the long lonely vistas of doom and damnation awaiting us, the ""seething/ behavioral sinks"" and ""the Witches Sabbath on Garbage Mountain."" The Age of Anxiety is, after all, his baby. Yet in his autumnal years he prefers wisdom to excess (see ""Contra Blake"") and the clear classic gaiety of language to the fashionable neo-romantic mutterings which fail to free us ""from the fetters of Self."" ""No, even the wildest of poems/ must, like prose, have a firm basis in staid common-sense."" He suspects ""that without some undertone of the comic/ genuine serious verse cannot be written to-day."" And it is just such verse -- sparkling, austere, didactic -- which triumphantly comprises Epistle to a Godson. That, and his ever-evolving adventures in metrical ingenuity. Since he often complains that critics rarely know the difference between a bacchic and a choriam, let us comment on his current prosody. There are examples of syllabic verse, the haiku, and accentual hexameters -- as in one of the most charming poems' he's ever written -- ""Talking to Mice.

Pub Date: Sept. 5th, 1972
Publisher: Random House