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Auden's is a horizontal sensibility, Eliot's a vertical one. Eliot presents a feeling for language and an attitude of mind held together in an act of intense and magical concentration. Auden moves from one pithy phrase or perception or moral to another, always on the surface, and almost always brilliant, diverse, amusing. He is the master technician of our time. Still, looking over his lesser work, such as The Orators, originally published in 1932 when Auden was twenty-five, One wonders what ultimately will be salvaged from so many of his exuberant inventions or sly metaphors. The campy surrealist mise-en-sceneo, the characteristic early psychoanalytical underpinning, the rumors of war, social decline, and indefinable sexual malaise, the baffling flirtation with fascist as well as Marxist elements--these properties either mysteriously compose themselves in fine set-pieces (""Letter to a Wound,"" for instance, the forerunner of the Herod speech in For the Time Being) or else Just as mysteriously frolic in Oxbridge parodies, conspiratorial Jogging, or mocking displays of prosodic wizardry a la Hopkins, etc. Auden's failing is the wish to be both incorrigible and profound, as in the ""Journal of an Airman,"" where an apocalyptic atmosphere is rendered through high tea epigrams. A patchy tour de force.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1967
Publisher: Random House