AUDEN’S DISAVOWAL OF HAPPY ACCIDENTS. Clive James suggests in his essay that Auden’s permitting the printer’s word change to stand was inconsistent with Auden’s view that a poem should not express ideas which are inconsistent with the poet’s long-held beliefs. James quotes Auden: “A dishonest poem is one which expresses, no matter how well, feelings or beliefs which its author never felt or entertained. For example, I once expressed a desire for ‘New styles of architecture’; but I have never liked modern architecture.”
In the light of what James describes as Auden’s “ethical stand forbidding any irrationalities, all happy accidents. No automatic responses, no first thoughts”, it does seem strange that Auden permitted the accident of a printer’s error to stand. I think that the James’ explanation is that Auden became increasingly wary of his talent, of which James says: “It was a Shakespearian gift, not just in magnitude but in its unsettling – and unsettling especially to its possessor – characteristic of making anything said sound truer than true.”
For Auden, accepting the printer’s change—a random event–did not present the danger that would be presented if the language had resulted from Auden’s rhetorical power.