Monday, June 8, 2015

The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare's The Tempest, is a long poem by W. H. Auden, written 1942â€"44, and first published in 1944.

The poem is a series of dramatic monologues spoken by the characters in Shakespeare's play after the end of the play itself.

The poem begins with a "Preface" ("The Stage Manager to the Critics"), followed by Part I, "Prospero to Ariel"; Part II, "The Supporting Cast, Sotto Voce, spoken by individual characters in the play, each followed by a brief comment by the character of Antonio; and Part III, Caliban to the Audience, spoken by Caliban in a prose style modelled on that of the later work of Henry James. An "Epilogue" ("Ariel to Caliban, Echo by the Prompter") closes the work.

The poem is dedicated to Auden's friends James and Tania Stern.

It was first published in 1944 together with Auden's long poem "For the Time Being" in a book also titled For the Time Being.

A critical edition with introduction and notes by Arthur Kirsch was published in 2003.

Part III "Caliban to the Audience"

Caliban to the Audience, the longest section by far of the work, is a prose poem in the style of Henry James. In it, Auden reflects on the nature of the relationship of the author (presumably Shakespeare) to the audience of The Tempest, the paradoxes of portraying life in art, and the tension of form and freedom.

The poem itself is in three parts with a short introduction, where the "so good, so great, so dead author" is asked to take a curtain call, and being unable to do so, Caliban stands in his place to take the questions.

The first section is a meditation on the dramatic arts, in various personifications, the Muse for the dramatic arts, Caliban as the Real World, and Ariel as the Poetic world.

The second section is an address to Shakespeare on behalf of his characters, reflecting on the "Journey of Life" â€" " the down-at-heels disillusioned figure" and the desire for either personal or artistic freedom, with the disastrous results if either is attained.

The third section is a meditation on the paradox of life and art, with mutually exclusive goals, where the closer to Art you come, the farther from Life you go, and vice versa. The section ends with a coda of sorts, with the paradox is resolved through faith in "the Wholly Other Life".


  • John Fuller, W. H. Auden: A Commentary (1999)
  • Edward Mendelson, Later Auden (1999)
  • W. H. Auden, The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (1945)

External links

  • The W. H. Auden Society

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