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 The Scent That Captures That "1930s Moment"!

All material copyrighted to © 2014

or to the various credited sources © 2014



From the outset of his self-transcending bardic dialectic,

His own distinct, self-influenced ‘Audenic’ discipline,

The brilliant boy from Solihull, near Birmingham, third

Of three sons born in York to physician Charles Augustus

And missionary nurse Constance Rosalie Bicknell, young

Wystan –with the chafed face of a scholarly twelfth-

Century friar, carved eyes bevelled with the belfry-dark

Of meticulous cloistered craft on parchment and illuminated

Manuscript, skin freckled with bookish foxing– sent out mixed

Signals, sparring shadows always latticing his path: first

He was for defining an authentic political poetry –

Then, for obfuscating such lofty tolls for the subtler peals

Of ‘parable-Art’ (but surely all art is parable?)… In his

Introduction to The Poet’s Tongue (1935), Auden

Coined this grail again as ‘the parabolic approach’,

The quintessence of which was Poetry; and this Parabolic

Poetry would teach us ‘love’ but not ‘ideology’, it would

Bear us messages in paradigms, the sides, ours to decide –

Rather than being didactic, it would lead us out from dingy

Schoolroom glooms of ethical tutelage, out to ecchoing

Greens of chainless heart-intelligence, or up to flights of self-

Enfranchisement through Hermeneutic Choice, personal

Responsibility for interpreting the parable with whichever

Messages seemed to strike us first in the figurative tapestry –

And this was where anxiety entered, gingerly, with its weighted

Gingery grin: neurosis, sourced from a species’ rinsing sin,

The ‘dizziness of freedom’, chagrin of Choice, the choking

Chain of impossible office, or whichever Kierkegaardian

Coinage one picked, anxiety was the defining temperament

Of the time, not only for the Audenites, but also for

Their harbingers: flame-haired D.H. Lawrence, and T.S.

Eliot who had once admitted to himself “Anxiety is

The hand maiden of creativity” –trembling epiphany;

The thunderstruck lightning-charge of Damascene anticipation…



The Anglo-American, Anglo-Catholic saturnine cat

Of catastrophe and apocalypse atrophied into poetry,

Thomas Sternes (T.S.) Eliot, sat in state, enthroned

In the unconscious sacristy of the Thirties’ poetic fabric,

Gauzed into the DNA of the ‘Auden Generation’, not his

Quixotic politics –which would tilt towards the fascists,

Merge into a strange melange of Falangism and Carlism,

Misjudged chivalry, during the Spanish Civil War, just

At the point that Auden and friends dashed off to help defend

Loyalist Spain against the Francoist forces– but his

Philosophical sensibility, implicitly, through

The rattling gateway clattered open onto The Waste Land

In the Roaring Twenties, his attempt to represent his ‘mythic

Method’, a way of controlling and shaping the apocalyptic

Panorama of an unwritten post-war history –the blasted

Territory whose scattered relics would come to scrape together

A new mythopoeic imperative, a conscript-poetics for

A time of artistic action torn from the heart, soteriology

Of song for a godless generation, whether it be to an end,

Or dead-end –a Cambridge don, I.A. Richards had located

On Eliot’s tattered map –a part-apocryphal scroll with Ezra

Pound’s paw-prints all over it– a certain topographical

Feature, a kind of plateau, a topophilic concentration,

Or mass of gross regions, pinned by a compass-point on

Conrad’s aphorism: ‘In the destructive element immerse’ –

Here was the canonical trope for poets of the future dreamt

Up in the Thirties (paraphrased by Stephen Spender to title

His debut in polemical prose, The Destructive Element,

Published punctually by Jonathan Cape in 1935)…





Auden in white
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