The Oxford poets of the 1930s--W. H. Auden, C. Day Lewis, Stephen Spender, and Louis MacNeice--represented the first concerted British challenge to the domination of twentieth-century poetry by the innovations of American modernists such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. Known for their radical politics and aesthetic conservatism, the "Auden Generation" has come to loom large in our map of twentieth century literary history. Yet Auden's voluble domination of the group in its brief period of association, and Auden's sway with critics ever since, has made it difficult to hear the others on their own terms and in their own distinct voices. Here, rendered in eloquent prose by one of our most distinguished critics of modern poetry, is the first full-length study of the poetry of C. Day Lewis, a book that introduces the reader to a profoundly revealing and beautifully wrought record of his poetry against the cultural and literary ferment of this century. Albert Gelpi explores in three expansive sections the major periods of the poet's development, beginning with the emergence of Day Lewis in the thirties as the most radical of the Oxford poets. An artist who sought through poetry a way of "living in time" without traditional religious assurances, Day Lewis went further than his friends in seeking to forge a revolutionary poetry out of his commitment to Marxism. When Stalinism led to his resignation from the Communist Party, Day Lewis in the forties went on to shape a rich, fiercely perceptive poetry out of the convergence of the wartime crisis with the explosive events of his own inner life, intensified by the erotics of a decade-long affair. Returning to his Irish roots and meditating on the persistent tension between agnosticism and faith in the work of his third and final period, Day Lewis wrote some of the most moving poems in the language about mortality and dying, the limits and possibilities of human striving. Through the traumatic changes of his life C. Day Lewis came increasingly to depend on the intricacies of poetry itself as a way of living in time. His abiding belief in the psychological and moral functions of poetry impelled him in his critical writings and in his own poetic practice to delineate a modern poetics that presents an effective alternative to the elitist experimentation associated with Modernism. This vital revisionist reading of Day Lewis demonstrates that much of his best work was written after the thirties and establishes him as one of the most significant and accomplished British poets of the modern period.
- Publication Date:
- 22 / 01 / 1998