(WSJ) The Autobiography of W.H. Auden

This is a cautionary note that Auden sounded more than once in almost 50 years of reviews and essays. For all his exuberant playfulness (not always as conspicuous in his prose as in his poetry), Auden was a moralist. Accuracy of expression was not only an aesthetic virtue but an ethical one. For him the celebrated mot juste of Flaubert meant the just word as well as the right one. This genial scrupulosity lifts his best reviews far above those of most of his contemporaries. As he put it himself, rather presciently, in his early poem “Letter to Lord Byron”: “In setting up my brass plate as a critic, / I make no claim to certain diagnosis, / I’m more intuitive than analytic, / I offer thought in homeopathic doses.”

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