chapter  103
3 Pages

Patric Dickinson, Review,'horizon', May 1949

Apart from the language, it is difficult to believe that the intention and content of the poem justify its enormous length. It is not that Mr. Auden says very little, but that what he says is tremendously diffused. For example, the discussion on the Seven Stages of man, pages 33 to 54, seems to me almost entirely otiose; it is all personal psychologising, of the sort which Mr. Auden has done before with much greater precision and point. As verse it is remarkably unenticing, and we would be quite happy to take it all as said, or compressed into a single prose paragraph. The argument of the poem, all that which is at all fresh about it, begins with Quant's invitation to Rosetta on Page 53, and with her doubting and tentative answer. Thereafter, one feels, the poem would still have gained by compression. Its love scene, in particular, is drawn-out, facetious, and dull. It is possible to be wrong; and what we cannot doubt, I think, is that Mr. Auden intended these disagreeable effects. His teeth have chattered, and he wants ours to chatter. He has left his powerful observatory, and set himself down shivering in the wreckage like some Hiroshima victim. There is little doubt either, despite all linguistic excrescences and trivialitites, of the fundamental earnestness and thoroughness with which he has set about it. It was a dangerous attempt for an artist to make, and almost certainly, in the present instance, a mistaken one. Chattering teeth do not make good poetry, even in The Age of Despair.