Auden & America

Eric Ormsby in the New York Sun:

Auden2 W. H. Auden sailed for New York on January 19, 1939. He would remain in America off and on until of the last his year of his life, becoming an American citizen in 1946. Auden was roundly criticized for leaving England when he did; after all, the1930s had been dubbed “The Age of Auden,” and even admirers of his poetry saw his departure as an unpardonable — and cowardly — defection in time of war. The criticism still simmers. Last year, during the centenary celebrations of his birth, the charges against Auden were occasionally resurrected in articles and letters to the press, often with lingering bitterness. In hindsight, it seems clear that Auden’s motives were far more complicated — and personal — than his critics assumed. Still, the blithe lightheartedness of his departure at such a moment suggested at best a surprising callousness in so socially conscious a poet.

America seems to have been irresistible to the young Auden. It not only offered a fresh start, but afforded him the chance to grow in new ways. In a sense, he was sailing away from the predictably public figure he had become toward some undiscovered destination within himself. America encouraged the introvert in him, he wrote, adding — amazingly enough — that “all Americans are introverts.” The Auden who arrived on these shores was in certain respects as clueless as Columbus.

More here.