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May 03, 1941 - Image 10

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The Michigan Daily, 1941-05-03

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Page T'en

'P ER S P E C TI V ES

THE POETS

The Double Man, by W. H. Auden,
Random House, 1941.
Every writer is under double surveil-
lance today.-The poet, above all others,
is responsible to his audience. In a time
of crisis, he must do more than reflect
the chaos about him - there seem to
be artists enough to accomplish this in
times of peace - he must demonstrate
his understanding of events, and he
must suggest, if not demand, a way out,
a means for obtaining order. The Double
Man is Auden's attempt to outline a
philosophy for the modern man In this
alone he has gained a march on those
poets who remain silent or sell them-
selves openly to the propaganda of war
and reaction. In this alone, however, for
his program is obscure and impractical.
In reality, it is no program at all, but
merely the muddled 'philosophical"
outpourings of a British middle-class in-
dividual. The lead poem of The Double
Man is a long dissertation in tetrameter
couplets patterned in style and thought
after Pope's Essay on Man. The poem
ranges over a variety of subjects dealing
almost exclusively with men and events
that have influenced Auden's ideas.
It reminds one ,no little of the ser-
mons of New England Calvinists who
sought through an exhibition of great
learning to awe their congregations. But
Auden has neither the fire nor the his-
torical justification for such writing.
If, by using a simple scheme, Auden
hoped to bring clarity, his ideas, defeat
him from the start. If he thought he was
writing fine as well as didactic poetry,
he was wrong again. Witness the care-
ful turning of phrase, the imagination
in the following lines:
"In Ireland the great Berkeley rose
To add new glories to our prose."
Do Auden's ideas contribute to our
understanding of modern affairs? "Vast
spiritual disorders," he says, disturb the
planet. Frankly, I cannot conceive of
Hitler as nothing but a vast, spiritual
disorder. Nor do I know any better the
methods of combating fascism at home
and abroad. "No words men write can
stop the war," says Auden. All are
agreed. What then? Unlike Edna Mil-
lay, Auden does not sit down with con-
suming passion to burnish the arrows
and make ready the coffins. His strate-
gem is more subtle. '
"O when will men show common sense
And throw away intelligence,
Upon the Beishlaf of the blood
Establish a real neighborhood
Where art and industry and moeurs
Are governed by. an ordre du coeur?"
Or again:
"Whichever way we turn, we see
Man captured by his liberty."
What is this? Where have we heard this
emphasis before on the blood, the heart,
the negation of intelligence, the pursuit
of less liberty and greater constraints?
This is not friend Adolf speaking, mind
you, but Auden. But such revelations
are rare. Auden flirts with Nietzsche
but puts his money on Rilke. The ma-
chine 'has destroyed all beauty. The
collective world is too much with us.
Before man can succeed alone to a
better life, he must learn to live and
act alone. He must search for "the
eternal verities" wtihin himself, he must
experience pain.
"Aloneness is man's real condition,
That each must travel forth alone
In search of the Essential. Stone,
The 'Nowhere-without-No' that is
The justice of societies."
That is the best statement of Auden's
present philosophy. I say present with
emphasis, for Auden's ideas vacillate
from day to day, and the basis for his
entire work seems to be a pleasant an-
archy which blows like a will o' the wisp
far above the hard ground of reality.
Auden admits that society is changing
and will change. He admits that people

want a better world. He slyly hints that
at one time he dabbled on the fringe
of communism. But, and his profound
comprehension of Marxism will be ob-
vious-to all, he says:
"We hoped, we waited for the day
The State would wither clean away."
So, since Auden couldn't have anarchy
in the Soviet Union, he created his own
private anarchic niche and there re-
sides to this day. Perhaps Auden is one
of those who believe that the good con-
servative Mr. Churchill will deposit
England in the hands of socialism when
this war is over. I won't hazard the guess.
But The Double Man by its very na-
ture demands political analysis. Auoien
has labelled everyone else. I think he
himself deserves a label. He does not
beat the war drums and ask us to sacri-
fice. But he does suggest that "the
wave of the future" cannot be stopped,
that we might as well sit back and let
come what may, that maybe this busi-
ness about the Nordic hero and the
suffering of the inner soul while the
outer man bows to circumstance, isn't
so bad after all. There is no clear-cut
statement here of what we are and
where .we are going. There is no sincere
love of mankind expressed. There is no
firm belief in a better future, which
we demand of the poet today. There is
only evasion and mysticism. This is ap-
peasement poetry. In political and philo-
sophical terms as well, this is the lang-
uage of appeasement.
The Double Man ends with a sonnet
sequence which adds little to what has
gone before. The realism and the hu-
manity of Auden's earlier work seems
lost forever in a miasma of tortured
self-analysis. The keen, young poet we
welcomed from England some time
hence has built himself a tall and unpre-
possessing, if not dangerous, ivory tow-
er in our green and pleasant land.
-- Edwin G. Burrows

The Poetry of W. B. Yeats, by Louis
Macneice, Oxford University Press.
The best short study of Yeats is still
that by Edmund Wilson in Axel's Cas-
tIe, but MacNeice's The Poetry of Yeats
will probably remain for some time
the best full length study. Its aim, in
the author's words, is to show Yeats
as "a less simple and more substan-
tial poet" than others have thought
him, and in this it succeeds. The book
adds definitely to Yeat's stature as a
man of letters. It contains very little
biography - in fact it presupposes
some knowledge of Yeats's life; but it
is an interesting and provocative study
of the poetry itself. Before Mac-
Neice gives for the first time a detailed
study made valuable by his own sensi-
tive and illuminating comment.
Yeats's early poetry, largely discred-
ited today, is sympathetically analysed
- the Pre-Raphaelite beginnings, the
influence of Pater and the Aesthetes, of
the French Symbolists, and of the
Nineties with their mixture of decad-
ence and genius. As an example of what
Yeats was at the start of his career,.
MacNeice quotes part of a suppressed
poem obviously written under the in-
fluence of Swinburne:
Afar from our lawn and our levee,
O sister of sorrowful gaze!
Where the roses of scarlet are heavy
And dream of the end of their days.
You move in another dominion
And hang o'er the historied stone;
Unpruned is your beautiful pinion,
Who wander and whisper alone.
From a writer of facile verses such
as these too much could not have been
expected. Nevertheless Yeats was grow-
ing. He turned to Ireland - to nation-
alism in politics, to Celtic myth in
literature. He played an important part
in the Irish Renaissance by his work
for the Abbey Theatre, and by his crit-

ical writings as well as his poems. The
famous "Celtic Twilight" with its at-
mosphere of dream and myth and faery
was largely his creation. Later, as Mac-
Neice points out, he himself recognized
that he had selected only one aspect
of the Celtic tradition: Characteristical-
ly he had overlooked the hardness and
materialism of the early Irish literature.
But he was moving towards it. There
came a time when his early work no
longer satisfied him. Once he said that
the outlines of a lyric should be blurred.
Now, with aestheticism, the Nineties,
and the Celtic Twilight behind him, he
wanted clarity and preciseness. Once
he had deliberately sought archaism,
embroidery, embellishmen; now he
wanted words of simple, homely
strength. His own statement of the
change is significant:
I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries.
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat;
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world's eyes
As though they'd wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.
In accordance with his new .onvic-
tions, he set out to revise his early
poetry, not always with the happiest re-
sults. But the changes are instructive.
When "Ye Waves though ye dance 'fore
my feet like children at play" becomes
"You waves though you dance by my
feet like children at play," we see that
he is sloughing off the last vestiges
of Victorianism, that he wants to write
simply and directly in the language of
his day.
MacNeice agrees with most critics of
our times in regarding the poetry of
this last period as Yeats's best work,
the poetry of The Tower and The Wind-
ing Stair. In these books the wavering
somnolent rhythms and the vague ro-
mantic language of the early work have
disappeared. Even the symbols drawn
from Irish mythology are used more
sparingly and with greater meaning.
The later work, too, is stronger in con-
tent, more intellectual, more various
in mood, more ready to come to grips
with the contemporary world.
As a critic, MacNeice is at his best in
the detailed analysis and discussion of
the technical aspects of Yeats's poetry.
When it comes to the peculiar and highly
individualistic ideas that underlie the
poetry - the dominating conception
of the Mask, the difficult symbolism -
he is not so helpful. Perhaps, though
no critic can be expected to make plain
and reduce to simple order what passes
for Yeats's "philosophy," that strange
amalgam of astrology, magic, theoso-
phy, and automatic writing. Nor will
any critic be helped by Yeats's own
statement: "Some will ask whether I
believe in the actual existence of my
circuits of sun and moon . . . To such a
question I can but answer that if some-
times, overwhelmed by miracle as all
men must be when in the midst of it,
I have taken such periods literally, my
reason has recovered . . . " If the poet
himself doubts, what shall the critic do?
What is certain is that Yeats main-
tained a life-long distrust of science
and the scientific outlook as it conflict-
ed with the poetic, and MacNeice pre-
sents the best analysis yet of Yeats's
early escapism and his later attempt to
construct a philosophy of hiis own that
would allow him to deny the world of
science.
Few poets of our time have com-
manded the almost universal respect
that has been accorded to William But-
ler Yeats. MacNeice's study will un-
doubtedly be followed by others, but
because of its penetrating analysis of
the poems themselves it has permanent
value.
- A. L. Bader

4

THE NOVEL

(Continued from Page Nine)
beat his wife nightly. The clergyman's
name would be ruined.
Well,. there, at least, was an inter-
esting view of the whole matter. Things
that had not passed over the back fences
or over the tea cups and which Will
surely knew by some means or other
would be included in the book. Mrs.
Olmstead would learn if it was true
that Mr. Humphreys was seeing another
woman and that he wanted a divorce.
Everyone who read the book (and they
all would buy copies as soon as it ap--
peared on the street) would find out
why Mrs. Baker had never had children.
And, of course, they would discover
what sort of people they themselves
were.
HOSE
THOSE who received an invitation one
morning from Mrs. Burroughs to
attend a small tea which she was plan-
ning that same afternoon at her home
were surprised; but none of them dared
not accept. They came almost in a
group, exactly at three o'clock, and sat
stiffly in the living room, scarcely talk-
ing to each other, sipping quickly and
carefully at their tea. Mrs. Burroughs
appeared to be inappropriately cheer-
ful as she fluttered about, offering small
cakes to her friends, telling them what
a lovely spring day it was. They tried to
smile when they answered her. Then
Mrs. Burroughs sat down herself and
began to stir her own cup of tea. "You
know," she remarked, "Will isn't feeling
well today."
"I'm so sorry,' Mrs. Olmstead said
consolingly. "Is the poor boy ill?"

"No," Mrs. Burroughs sighed. "But
it's his novel." The women moved un-
comfortably. "He got it back today. They
say they don't want it."
"Does that mean it won't be printed?"
Mrs. Mendelssohn asked unbelievingly.
"Well," Mrs. Burroughs said, "he
says he's going to send it somewhere
else. But I don't know. He doesn't seem
very hopeful."
The genial warmth of sympathy
t flowed through the room and bathed the
hearts of the women. They relaxed in
their chairs and began to talk earnest-
ly, saying well then he should try again.
Mrs. Humphreys said that it was such a
shame. She knew they weren't fair
about it.
From then on until after five o'clock
things went off very well. Mrs. Olmstead
told them that she didn't know how
she could repay her husband, who was
being so nice to her these days. Flowers
and candy and never a harsh word.
"You know," she said, "a better man
never lived." Mrs. Humphreys jokingly
contested this, and everyone laughed.
Then they all left, and Mrs. Olm-
stead was the last one to go. Before
the door closed behind her she put her
hand on Mrs. Burroughs' arm and spoke
softly so that the others could not hear.
"You know," she said, "I'd like to
get a look at that book. I'll bet Will
writes very well."
"I'll see if I can get it for you," Mrs.
Burroughs promised. She closed the door
and turned back into the living room;
as she took the china into the kitchen
she was humming gaily to herself.

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