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Orators, The

The Orators, Collected Poems, The English Auden

auden mendelson elements airman

the second of W. H. Auden's books, published in 1932, with revised editions in 1934 and 1966. Sub-titled ‘An English Study’, the work is in three parts, ‘The Initiates’, ‘The Journal of Airman’, and ‘Six Odes’, the first two of which are predominantly written in prose. Its disjunctive development, experimental formal strategies, and pervasive sense of combined personal and cultural crises identify it as Auden's most typically Modernist (see Modernism) work. The ‘radical uncertainty of tone’ which Edward Mendelson notes partially accounts for Auden's later view of the work as ‘a fair notion fatally injured’; this characteristic is, however, a function of the multiplicity of personae and contexts employed, as well as being intrinsic to the sustained thematic concern with uncertainties of identity and intention. The ascendancy of European fascism strongly informs the political urgency embodied in the doomed figure of the Airman; other important elements in the complex conceptual fabric of the work are provided by Auden's reading in psychology and anthropology. The book's stylistic mobility is remarkable: aridly dialectical passages modulate into blackly humorous burlesque, parodies of platitudinous rhetoric fade into stretches of gnomic pronouncement, and lyrically descriptive elements are juxtaposed with the Airman's telegraphese; as Mendelson has stated, The Orators ‘has a pungency and extravagance that he never equalled’. Soon after its initial publication Auden began expressing his severe misgivings about the work; six of its poems survive in Collected Poems (1976), while the entire 1934 edition is to be found in The English Auden (1977).

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