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W.H. Auden: the loveliness that is the case

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In this essay I suggest that Auden’s conception of beauty and his deployment of the term are accompanied by a sense of its limitations and even its dangers. This parallels his concerns with the responsibility – and irresponsibility – of poetry, and the move in his own writing away from what he came to see as the rhetorical self-indulgence of the earlier work, toward ‘the magnificently sane, meditative, judicial poems’ (Seamus Heaney) of his post-English period. ‘Art’, declared Auden, ‘arises out of our desire for both beauty and truth and our knowledge that they are not identical’: the beauty that persists, for him, is not as a category of the eternal but an attribute qualified by time.