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Randall Jarrell on W. H. Audenby Randall Jarrell
Synopses & Reviews
The poet who most fascinated and infuriated Randall Jarrell was W. H. Auden. While an affectionate and admiring reader of Auden, Jarrell does not avoid identifying his poetic failures and political excesses. Jarrell's witty, pointed, and controversial lectures trace the evolution of Auden's style from the late 1920s to the early 1950s and examine the ideas and contexts that animated his poetry, including psychoanalysis, leftist politics, and Christian theology.
Delivered at Princeton University in 1952, these six lectures offer new insights into Auden's poetry, particularly his long poems, and Jarrell's own work as critic and poet.
"Randall Jarrell wrote one of the major mid-20th-century works of poetry criticism (Poetry and the Age, 1953); Burt wrote the major 21st-century study (so far) of Randall Jarrell (Randall Jarrell and His Age, 2002). In his introduction to this set of six lectures, which Jarrell delivered at Princeton in 1952, Burt establishes the key, if contentious, role W.H. Auden's work played in Jarrell's own development as a poet and critic. As New Yorker writer Adam Gopnick points out in his foreword, Jarrell's lectures present an 'almost comically detailed analysis of the transformation of Auden's rhetoric in the 1940s,' a crux period in Auden's career-he had emigrated to the United States from England a few years earlier, and in that time he had come to abjure the 'We must love one another or die' sentiments of 'September 1st, 1939,' which he composed almost immediately after his arrival. Gopnick finds the essays to be 'a cutting contest without cuts, an occasion of witticisms more than a battle of wits.' Indeed, Jarrell does seem to be trying to best the older (and more famous) poet at the same time that he is lavishing attention on his smallest rhetorical shifts-and working hard to impress the audience as he sings for his supper (Burt details the financial arrangements). Jarrell registers multiple complaints about Auden's seeming 'liberal pieties' (as Gopnick calls them, though he does not think them such) and the taming effect they have had on his verse. Despite the ambivalence evident throughout the lectures, it is clear that Jarrell thought Auden worth reading to the dregs. The number of people today who have read Auden's poetry of the 1940s is smaller than the work merits, and the same goes for Jarrell's poetry and criticism throughout his career. 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 (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
A new collection of long-lost and previously unpublished lectures offers a definitive reading of a major poet by the most influential poet-critic of his era.
''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.
Jarrell's witty, pointed, and long-lost lectures trace the evolution of Auden's style from the late 1920s to the early 1950s and examine the ideas and contexts that animated his poetry, including psychoanalysis, leftist politics, and Christian theology. Delivered at Princeton University in 1952, these six lectures offer new insights into Auden's poetry, particularly his long poems, and Jarrell's own work as critic and poet.
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