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The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays Paperback – February 19, 1990

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

In this volume, W. H. Auden assembled, edited, and arranged the best of his prose writing, including the famous lectures he delivered as Oxford Professor of Poetry.  The result is less a formal collection of essays than an extended and linked series of observations--on poetry, art, and the observation of life in general.  The Dyer's Hand is a surprisingly personal, intimate view of the author's mind, whose central focus is poetry--Shakespearean poetry in particular--but whose province is the author's whole experience of the twentieth century.

About the Author

W. H. Auden was born in York in 1907, and brought up in Birmingham. He went to Christ Church College, Oxford, where Stephen Spender privately printed a booklet of his poems. After university he lived for a time in Berlin, before returning to England to teach. His first book, Poems, was published by T. S. Eliot at Faber in 1930. Other volumes of poems and plays followed during the 1930s. He went to Spain during the civil war, to Iceland (with Louis MacNeice) and later travelled to China. In 1939 he and Christopher Isherwood left for America, where Auden spent the next fifteen years lecturing, reviewing, writing poetry and opera librettos, and editing anthologies. He became an American citizen in 1946, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. In 1956 he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and a year later went to live in Kirchstetten in Austria, after spending several summers on Ischia. He died in Vienna in 1973. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books/Random House; 1st edition (December 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679724842
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679724841
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book of essays is a wonderful and surprising work, by the clear-minded and perceptive poet W.H. Auden. It is not a formal methodical work, like one would expect from a critic, but rather a poetic creation that provokes thought rather than defining thoughts. Auden's way of relating all sorts of things to each other, from opera to art to Shakespeare to everyday life, makes for a very mind-refreshing read. For anyone who has an interest in literature, art, or philosophy, this is a great choice.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Classics Lover on April 23, 2010
Format: Paperback
This collection of essays dealing with every type of literature -- poetry, plays, operas, comedies, tragedies -- and (almost) every essay is superb. In practically every essay Auden says things that make you slap your thigh and say, "dammit, so THAT'S why I feel like that about this play [or poem, or critic, or character in a play, etc.]". The main reason is that Auden has a superb understanding of the all-important, yet subtle, differences between different concepts, characters, types of literature, and so on.

To give some examples, in one essay Auden defines perfectly the difference between PRETENDING to be in love, WISHING to be in love, THINKING one is in love, and actually being in love. In another, the difference between a comedy which makes us accept our imperfection, and a satire that makes us wish to change them. In yet another, the difference between two Shakespearian outsiders -- the Jewish Shylock and the Moore, Othello, and how their different type of "outsiderness" (Shylock, the lender, is despised but also despises the Italians, while Othello thinks his military prowess made him acceptable, which is not so); the difference between the "I" and the "self"; between a "bore" and "a boring" person -- and show why they matter.

In addition to making fine distinction, Auden is also extremely perceptive in other ways. E.g., Auden hits right on the head the problem with most literary theory written by poets: namely, that it amounts to "read me, don't read the other fellow". He notes there are numerous ways to write good poetry, and his own expertise is by no means the only way.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Garber on December 8, 2009
Format: Paperback
A wonderful but uneven collection of Auden's prosaic yet poetic musings on art, philosophy, and religion. The first couple sections are the best - a collection of Auden's snarky aphorisms about poetry, art, and reading ("Readers are like the young boys who scribble mustaches on the faces of girls in magazine advertisements"). The essay "The Virgin and the Dynamo" is an understated but forceful attack on philosophical materialism and determinsim, while "The Poet and the City" examines the relation of the individual versus the faceless mob. The "Postscript on Christianity and Art" is also quite good. The rest are more specific essays on various poets and playwrights - read them for your lit crit class but not on your own.
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The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays
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