From ‘New Year Letter’ by W.H. Auden (1940)


Art in intention is mimesis
But, realised, the resemblance ceases;
Art is not life and can not be
A midwife to society,
For Art is a fait accompli.

What they should do or how or when
Life-order comes to living men
It cannot say, for it presents
Already living experience
Through a convention that creates
Autonomous completed states.

Though their particulars are those
That each particular artist knows,
Unique events that once took place
Within a unique time and space,
In the new field they occupy,
The unique serves to typify,
Becomes, though still particular,
An algebraic formula,
An abstract model of events
Derived from past experiments,
And each life must itself decide
To  what and how it be applied




Trapped in a medium’s artifice,
To charity, delight, increase.
Now large, magnificent and calm,
Your changeless presence disarm
The  sullen generations, still
The fright and fidget of the will,
And to the growing and the weak
Your final transformation speak,
Saying to dreaming ‘I am deed,’
To striving ‘Courage. I succeed,’
To mourning ‘I remain. Forgive,’
And to becoming ‘I am. Live’





English poet, playwright, critic, and librettist W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden exerted a major influence on the poetry of the twentieth century. Auden grew up in Birmingham, England and was known for his extraordinary intellect and wit. His first book, Poems, was published in 1930 with the help of T.S. Eliot. Just before World War II broke out, Auden emigrated to the United States where he met the poet Chester Kallman who became his lifelong lover.

Much of his poetry is concerned with moral issues and evidences a strong political, social, and psychological context. While the teachings of Marx and Freud weighed heavily in his early work, they later gave way to religious and spiritual influences.

Some critics have called Auden an “antiromantic”—a poet of analytical clarity who sought for order, for universal patterns of human existence. Auden’s poetry is considered versatile and inventive, ranging from the tersely epigrammatic to book-length verse, and incorporating a vast range of scientific knowledge.

John G. Blair (author of The Poetic Art of W.H. Auden), however, have cautioned against reading Auden’s personal sentiments into his poetry: “In none of his poems can one feel sure that the speaker is Auden himself. In the course of his career he has demonstrated impressive facility in speaking through any sort of dramatic persona; accordingly, the choice of an intimate, personal tone does not imply the direct self-expression of the poet.”

The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. It features four characters of disparate backgrounds who meet in a New York City bar during World War II and is written in the heavily alliterative style of Old English literature. The poem explores the attempts of the protagonists to comprehend themselves and the world in which they live.

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