Auden's reputation couldn't have got off to a faster start. In January 1930 Eliot printed 'Paid on Both Sides' in the Criterion, and let it be known that he thought its author an especially promising poet. In September 1930 Auden's Poems came out. 'Dare I spot him as a winner?' Naomi Mitchison asked in one of the earliest reviews. A few months later William Empson wrote at some length about 'Paid on Both Sides'. He was impressed by Auden's ability to make 'psychoanalysis, surrealism, and all that', all the irrationalist tendencies 'which are so essential a part of the machinery of present-day thought', take their place in 'the normal and rational tragic form, and indeed what constitutes the tragic situation'. The play - Empson took it as that, not as the 'charade' Auden called it - had 'the sort of completeness that makes a work seem to define the attitude of a generation'. This notion, that Auden was in straightforward possession of all the available forms of knowledge and lore and that he could speak to the issues they proposed, largely accounted for the reception of The Orators when it appeared in May 1932. By the end of that year, Louis MacNeice, Stephen Spender, Geoffrey Grigson, Michael Roberts, Bonamy Dobrée, John Hayward and Graham Greene had nominated Auden as the new voice. The six odes and the epilogue of The Orators, Greene said, justified Auden's 'being named in the same breath as Lawrence'.
LRB 22 December 1983 | PDF Download