W.H. Auden has long been one of my favorite poets, and, over at Books & Culture, Alan Jacobs has reviewed volume 3 of the complete prose of Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson. It’s an excellent appreciation of Auden’s view of the role of the poet in a community and the intellectual legwork that Auden put into understanding the role of a Christian poet after he returned to the church in 1940.
Here’s a quote that I thank Jacobs for calling to my attention. It’s Auden writing about Kierkegaard and the immersion of human beings in both nature and history:
As a spirit, a conscious person endowed with free will, every man has, though faith and grace, a unique “existential” relation to God, and few since St. Augustine have described this relation more profoundly than Kierkegaard. But every man has a second relation to God which is neither unique nor existential: as a creature composed of matter, as a biological organism, every man, in common with everything else in the universe, is related by necessity to the God who created that universe and saw that it was good, for the laws of nature to which, whether he likes it or not, he must conform are of divine origin. And it is with this body, with faith or without it, that all good works are done.
How many of the critical issues facing the church and the academy can be traced to a failure to recognize that human beings have both a spirit and a body?
Additionally, Jacobs notes that Auden was not only a student of Tolkien’s at Oxford, but also the first “serious” champion of The Lord of the Rings as a great work of literature.
If you are interested in an introduction to Auden’s prose, Auden himself assembled a volume entitled The Dyer’s Hand which includes many of his most important essays. For his poetry, Selected Poems, also edited by Mendelson, is a good place to start.