1 minute read

Age of Anxiety, The

For the Time Being

a long poem by W. H. Auden, published in 1947. Almost entirely in alliterative verse, its six parts are set in wartime New York. Malin, Quant, Emble, and Rosetta, the protagonists, respectively represent thought, intuition, sensation, and feeling, the Jungian psychic faculties, which Auden designates explicitly in For the Time Being (1944). As an allegory of the reintegration of the fragmented self, the narrative brings the four, each of whom is drinking alone at the start, into close community. After their philosophical discourse on the human condition in the ‘The Seven Ages’, the second section, they undertake the revelatory dream-journey of ‘The Seven Stages’; this substantial passage forms Auden's most concentrated use of topographical imagery in its elaborately structured landscapes, which sustain symbolic correspondences with the human body. Sections four and five, ‘The Dirge’ and ‘The Masque’, unite the four in Rosetta's flat, where the euphoric mood established yields to disillusioned confrontations with reality after they have disbanded. The unconditional acceptance of the Christian existential imperatives in Malin's final speech in ‘The Epilogue’ provisionally concludes the religious, ethical, and epistemological questings that dominate Auden's poetry of the early 1940s. The theologian Paul Tillich valued the poem highly as a reflection of the spiritual and psychological conditions of its time; Marianne Moore noted its ‘mechanics of consummate virtuosity’, indicating the fluency and ingenuity with which its complex patterns of significance imaginatively cohere.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: 110A Piccadilly to Nelson Algren Biography