James Brophy

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Laura Cowan

Second Committee Member

Steven Evans

Third Committee Member

David Gross


This thesis approaches the poetry of W. H. Auden through his use of literary wit, a value which is defined here as a facility and flexibility of mind used to bring together contradictory ideas toward a greater elucidation, and, importantly, to the delight of the reader. I consider how Auden's turn toward wit in the late 1930s participates in the promotion of a greater world view and promotes the reclaiming of a private mental space. I explore the specific frames of reference which feature in Auden's particular idiosyncratic intellect, and from which he draws his various points of view into monstrous cohesion with one another, arbitrated by his witty sensibility. Finally I offer readings of nine of Auden's poems in terms of their literary wit. The original contribution to thought which is represented by this thesis lies in the applying of a critical apparatus that revolves around literary wit to Auden's work, and in so doing, suggesting that Wit be regarded as an important theoretical aspect of modern poetry.