A FORMIDABLE BODY OF WORK’ (CYRIL CONNOLLY) – AUDEN’S LAST COLLECTION OF HIS SHORTER POEMS
AUDEN, Wystan Hughes. Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957. London: R. MacLehose and Company Limited, The University Press Glasgow for Faber and Faber Limited, 1966.
Octavo (215 x 136mm), pp. 351, [1 (blank)]. (Very occasional light spotting or marking, marginal crease on final l.)Original dark-blue cloth, spine lettered and decorated in gilt, dustwrapper, not price-clipped. (Extremities very lightly rubbed, top edges of boards slightly faded, top edges of bookblock slightly dusty and spotted, dustwrapper slightly darkened and marked, creased at edges and on spine.) A very good copy in the dustwrapper.
First edition. Auden (1907-1973) had first gathered his shorter poems in 1944 and published them in the United States (his home since 1939) under the title The Collected Poetry of W.H. Auden (New York, 1945), later issuing the collection in Britain under the title Collected Shorter Poems 1934-1944 (London, 1950). In his foreword to this volume, the successor to Collected Shorter Poems 1934-1944 and the last selection of shorter pieces he made in his lifetime, Auden wrote that ‘[i]n 1944, when I first assembled my shorter pieces, I arranged them in the alphabetical order of their first lines. This may have been a silly thing to do, but I had a reason. At the age of thirty-seven I was still too young to have any sure sense of the direction in which I was moving, and I did not wish critics to waste their time, and mislead readers, making guesses about it which would almost certainly turn out to be wrong. To-day, nearing sixty, I believe that I know myself and my poetic intentions better and, if anybody wants to look at my writings from an historical perspective, I have no objection. Consequently, though I have sometimes shuffled poems so as to bring together those related by theme or genre, in the main their order is chronological’ (p. 15).
Auden states that ‘[s]ome poems which I wrote, and, unfortunately, published, I have thrown out because they were dishonest, or bad-mannered, or boring’ (loc. cit.), a decision which ‘prompted complaints by critics who believed that he had altered his work because he no longer held his earlier left-wing positions’ (ODNB). The reviews by A. Alvarez in The Observer (27 November 1966), p. 27 and Cyril Connolly in The Sunday Times (27 November 1966), p. 24 both lamented these omissions, the former commenting that those in the three categories identified by Auden ‘account, alas, for some of his best work’ and the latter – who judges the volume’s contents ‘a formidable body of work’ – regretting the excisions but praising the inclusion of new material from the period 1927 to 1930.
The foreword concludes with Auden’s rationale for the parameters of Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957: ‘[t]his collection stops at the year nineteen-fifty-seven. In the following year I transferred my summer residence from Italy to Austria, so starting a new chapter in my life which is not yet finished. The poems included cover a span of thirty years, there are, if I’ve counted rightly, three hundred of them, I was twenty when I wrote the earliest, fifty when I wrote the latest; four nice round numbers. Besides, the volume looks alarmingly big already’ (p. 16). Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 was first published in this edition on 24 November 1966 in an edition of 7,310 copies.
Bloomfield and Mendelson, Auden, A56a.
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