MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Arcadians and Utopians

MEMETERIA by Thomas May

W.H. Auden in 1939 W.H. Auden in 1939

Edward Mendelson’s new essay “The Secret Auden” in the New York Review of Books is a provocative read. The literary executor of the Auden estate and an authority long familiar to Audenites, Mendelson reveals some of the poet’s best-kept secrets.

Not tabloid secrets, not the gossipy stuff. Auden’s “secret life” lay hidden “because he would have been ashamed to have been praised for it.” Mendelson starts by touchingly recounting several instances of the poet’s under-the-radar generosity to war orphans, prisoners, people in need. And “when he felt obliged to stand on principle on some literary or moral issue,” writes Mendelson,”he did so without calling attention to himself” — in contrast to Robert Lowell, “whose political protests seemed to him more egocentric than effective.”

A potent example Mendelson adduces: Auden’s preface to his co-translation of Dag Hammarskjöld’s diary reflections, Markings, implicitly referred to the UN Secretary…

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