WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF SOUND in Auden’s work? In his lecture ‘Sounding Auden’, Seamus Heaney argued that Auden’s early poetry had introduced an unprecedented new note, by which it ‘brought native English poetry as near as it has ever been to the imaginative verge of the dreadful and offered an example of how insular experience and the universal shock suffered by mankind in the twentieth century could be sounded forth in the English language’. This effect was achieved when, in the best of Poems (1930), ‘the stress of Anglo-Saxon metre and the gnomic clunk of Anglo-Saxon phrasing were pulled like a harrow against the natural slope of social speech and iambic lyric’. Auden, however, discarded this aggressively defamiliarising tactic, on his journey towards the ‘magnificently sane’ post-war work, which in Heaney’s view involved ‘a weakening of his...

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