Metamorphosis Complete
  • Piotr K. Gwiazda
Part of the American Literature Readings in the 21st Century book series (ALTC)


Leslie Brisman writes: “Much of Merrill’s great trilogy, especially Scripts, is under the influence of Auden, and I think it is Auden more than anyone else who deflected Merrill from the grand and more Yeatsian enterprise of ‘The Book of Ephraim.’”1 There is no question that the author of A Vision would have made a perfect companion spirit in The Changing Light at Sandover and not a mere “WORDLESS PRESENCE” (CLS, 424), as he is called near the end of the trilogy. Instead, it came to Auden to assist Merrill in his Ouija board undertaking. In Merrill’s poem, Wystan becomes a substitute for the poet himself—his oeuvre, his personality, his ethos as a writer. True affinity between the two poets is established on the pages of the trilogy as Auden’s wisdom perfectly complements Merrill’s wit, while his public commitment harmonizes with the American poet’s personal self-investment. But, as the previous chapter demonstrates, in terms of certain views the posthumous Auden seriously differs from his prototype in the earthly life. Although some of his speeches sound as if they are lifted off a random page of his writings, the “real” Auden would have been surprised at some of the things his ghost says in Merrill’s poem—not only renouncing his Christian faith, but uncharacteristically (if comfortingly for Merrill) associating beauty with truth.


Lead Poisoning Literary Tradition Individual Talent Metamorphosis Complete Earthly Life 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri: Inferno, trans. Allen Mandelbaum (New York: Bantam Books, 1982), 7.Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Longinus, “On the Sublime,” in Critical Theory since Plato, ed. Hazard Adams (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1971), 86.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    Harold Bloom, The Ringers in the Tower (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1971), 210. Since in the lines that precede this passage Auden reflects on poetry’s role in society, it is also possible that while working on this part of the “New Year Letter” he was consulting Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Defence of Poetry, in which we find this Longinian passage: “Even in modern times, no living poet ever arrived at the fulness of his fame; the jury which sits in judgment upon a poet, belonging as he does to all time, must be composed of his peers; it must be impaneled by Time from the selectest wise of many generations.” A Defence of Poetry, ed. John E. Jordan (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1965), 38.Google Scholar
  4. 11.
    W.H. Auden, preface to Nineteenth-Century British Minor Poets, ed. W.H. Auden (New York: Delacorte, 1966), 16.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Auden’s foreword to Adrienne Rich’s Yale-prize winning first book of poetry A Change of World is often criticized for its patronizing tone with respect to the young female poet. But it also sheds light on Auden’s reflections, in the same period, on an individual poet’s relationship with literary tradition. Here Auden seems to assume that it is impossible to be completely “original” with respect to the past—”he who today climbs the Matterhorn, though he be the greatest climber who ever lived, must tread in Whymper’s footsteps.” But as a way of easing the burden he again personalizes the concept of poetic influence, beginning his introduction with an analogy between a poem and a person (we want them handsome and intelligent, not plain and stupid, he says), praising Rich for not concealing her “family tree,” and approvingly noting that her poems “respect their elders but are not cowed by them.” Foreword to A Change of World, by Adrienne Rich, in Adrienne Riches Poetry and Prose, ed. Barbara Charlesworth Gelpi and Albert Gelpi (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1993), 277–79.Google Scholar
  6. 19.
    James Fenton, “Auden’s Enchantment,” New Tork Review of Books 47, no. 6 (April 13, 2000): 64.Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    Quoted in Mendelson, Early Auden, 67. For more substantial descriptions of the journal, now stored at the Berg Collection of English and American Literature of The New York Public Library, see Humphrey Carpenter, W.H. Auden: A Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), 97–101; and Bozorth, Auden’s Games of Knowledge, 54–87.Google Scholar
  8. 25.
    Orlan Fox, “Friday Nights,” in W.H. Auden: A Tribute, ed. Stephen Spender (New York: Macmillan, 1975), 175.Google Scholar
  9. 30.
    T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts, ed. Valerie Eliot (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), 1.Google Scholar
  10. 31.
    James Merrill, “ The Changing Light at Sandover: A Conversation with James Merrill,” interview by Robert Polito, Pequod 31 (1990): 11.Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    John Ashbery, Other Traditions (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 70.Google Scholar
  12. 33.
    Randall Jarrell, The Third Book of Criticism (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969), 134.Google Scholar
  13. 34.
    Randall Jarrell, Auden, Kipling & Co.: Essays and Reviews 1935–1964 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1980), 145.Google Scholar
  14. 35.
    These comments were made respectively by Thorn Gunn, Philip Larkin, John Updike, and Denis Donoghue. See John Haffenden, W.H. Auden: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1983), 423, 419, 429, 482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 40.
    Alan Jacobs, What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden’s Poetry (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998), 104–10.Google Scholar
  16. 44.
    Nick Halpern, Everyday and Prophetic: The Poetry of Lowell, Ammons, Merrill, and Rich (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), 162.Google Scholar
  17. 45.
    Willard Spiegelman, The Didactic Muse: Scenes of Instruction in Contemporary American Poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 244.Google Scholar
  18. 49.
    Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (New York: Methuen, 1985), xii, 96.Google Scholar
  19. 52.
    Christopher Ricks, Allusion to the Poets (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 33.Google Scholar
  20. 59.
    Lucy McDiarmid, Auden’s Apologies for Poetry (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990), 39.Google Scholar
  21. 73.
    W.H. Auden, “Notebooks of Somerset Maugham,” review of A Writer’s Notebook, by W. Somerset Maugham, New Tork Times Book Review, October 23, 1949, 1.Google Scholar
  22. 74.
    W.H. Auden, ‘The Map of All My Youth’: Early Works, Friends and Influences, ed. Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 86.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Piotr K. Gwiazda 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Piotr K. Gwiazda

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations