W. H. Auden's emigration from England to the United States in 1939 marked more than a turning point in his own life and work--it changed the course of American poetry itself. The Age of Auden takes, for the first time, the full measure of Auden's influence on American poetry. Combining a broad survey of Auden's midcentury U.S. cultural presence with an account of his dramatic impact on a wide range of younger American poets--from Allen Ginsberg to Sylvia Plath--the book offers a new history of postwar American poetry.
For Auden, facing private crisis and global catastrophe, moving to the United States became, in the famous words of his first American poem, a new "way of happening." But his redefinition of his work had a significance that was felt far beyond the pages of his own books. Aidan Wasley shows how Auden's signal role in the work and lives of an entire younger generation of American poets challenges conventional literary histories that place Auden outside the American poetic tradition. In making his case, Wasley pays special attention to three of Auden's most distinguished American inheritors, presenting major new readings of James Merrill, John Ashbery, and Adrienne Rich. The result is a persuasive and compelling demonstration of a novel claim: In order to understand modern American poetry, we need to understand Auden's central place within it.
Aidan Wasley is associate professor of English at the University of Georgia.
"Auden's productivity and out-flung array of styles complicate Mr. Wasley's chosen task of tracking influences--and render it all the more gratifying when he unfolds some unexpected linkage. He is surely right when pointing out that no other poet of our time has assembled so disparate a circle of admirers. Auden's followers range from James Merrill to Allen Ginsberg, Anthony Hecht to Adrienne Rich, Robert Hayden to Maxine Kumin, Joseph Brodsky to John Ashbery. . . . Though Auden's influence is powerful and broad, The Age of Auden helpfully delineates its borders. The battle of literary reputations takes place in a dusty arena, and W. H. Auden will surely be one of those titanic figures that loom through whatever dim clouds arise. He will remain unignorable."--Brad Leithauser, Wall Street Journal
"This substantial study focuses on his life and work after his emigration to America just before World War II, and his profound influence on younger US poets. . . . As a work of old-style literary criticism based on close textual analysis, this is a book for students, and for lovers of Auden and post-war American poetry."--The Age
"A poetry anthology is elevated to greatness when, in offering the work of artists at their best moments, it reveals clear affinities between the works. Wasley's effort is that scholarly rarity: a critical examination that functions as a great anthology."--Choice
"Aidan Wasley shows how W. H. Auden's presence in America and the particular qualities of his later writing made him the central figure for a generation of American poets. Wasley has persuaded me that Auden's vision of America itself--optimistic, but dry, not fanciful--was part of the attraction. The discussions here of Ashbery, Rich, and especially Merrill have real delicacy and bring out hidden strengths and surprising affinities among these poets."--David Bromwich, Yale University
Table of Contents:
List of Abbreviations ix
Prologue: Auden in "Atlantis" 1 Part I
Chapter 1: A Way of Happening: < Auden's American Presence 33
Chapter 2: Father of Forms: Merrill, Auden, and a Fable of Influence 77
Chapter 3: The Gay Apprentice: Ashbery, Auden, and a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Critic 109
Chapter 4: The Old Sources: Rich, Auden, and Making Something Happen 145
Epilogue: He Became His Admirers: Saying Goodbye to Auden 175