Auden and Christianity
Yale, 240 pp., $30
It's A Safe Bet That W.h. Auden would have been suspicious of the idea behind this book. True, he was forthcoming about his attraction to the Christian faith, an attraction that remained strong even during his years of professed atheism, and became explicit after his formal return to the church in 1940. He was equally forthcoming in lamenting what he called the "prudery" of "cultured people" who treat religious belief as the last remaining shameful thing, and find theological terms "far more shocking than any of the four-letter words." Furthermore, there can be no doubt that Auden was, and deserves to be known as, a Christian writer, rather than a writer who merely happened to be Christian. Many of his most distinguished works of poetry and criticism, especially in his American years, are not only indebted to, but positively enveloped in, the riches of Christian narrative, language, imagery, allusion, and moral insight.
The notion that religious faith and serious thought are mutually exclusive categories always struck Auden as risible and unintelligible. But he would have bristled at an effort to separate out his religious beliefs and restate them as systematic propositions, or examine them independently or thematically, rather than see them as players in his rich and various inner symbolic drama. Such an undertaking would probably have struck him as unspeakably vulgar and, moreover, an invasion of his privacy, putting his devotional life on display and forcing him unwillingly to be judged by the public standard of a "religious" man, a role for which he felt singularly ill-equipped.
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