Auden: The Quality of Doubt

“Auden: The Quality of Doubt” (as William Ferry), Enquiry, November 1942. (A review of The Double Man by W. H. Auden.)


Auden is certainly one of those “whose works are in better taste than their lives.” His early verse, ideologically viewed, was brashly positive, didactic, clever, facile, and possessed of a nasty Stalinist bent. The undercurrent of questioning uncertainty, often stilled but always there, became dominant only late in the decade. A “New Year’s Letter” (1941), a part of this latest volume, is the organized end product of these growing doubts, and its moral subtlety, receptivity, and sensitivity is close to brilliant. The bitterly acquired political wisdom of a generation seems to flourish in the pen and stagnate in the poet. Of course, being poetry, the problem is only stated; but a good statement is half a solution.