A False Enchantment Can All Too Easily Last a Lifetime

W. H. Auden? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: The following evocative statement has been attributed to the prominent poet W. H. Auden:

A false enchantment can all too easily last a lifetime.

I find it so frustrating that people post and repost this quote without pointing to its precise source. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: In 1970 W. H. Auden published “A Certain World: A Commonplace Book”. The term “commonplace book” referred to a personal journal in which quotations, comments, observations, and other documents were gathered together for preservation. Auden’s volume was organized into an alphabetically ordered sequence of topics. The section titled “Enchantment” presented a quotation followed by a commentary: 1

Where is your Self to be found? Always in the deepest enchantment that you have experienced.
HUGO VON HOFMANNSTHAL

The state of enchantment is one of certainty. When enchanted, we neither believe nor doubt nor deny: we know, even if, as in the case of a false enchantment, our knowledge is self-deception.

The quotation appeared in Auden’s discussion of the divergence between true and false enchantments. Boldface has been added to excerpts:

All true enchantments fade in time. Sooner or later we must walk alone in faith. When this happens, we are tempted, either to deny our vision, to say that it must have been an illusion and, in consequence, grow hardhearted and cynical, or to make futile attempts to recover our vision by force, i.e., by alcohol or drugs.

A false enchantment can all too easily last a lifetime.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1925 the phrase “false enchantment” was used to label inaccurate feelings of nostalgia: 2

The “good old days” are in our hearts, not on the calendar. The good old days are now. Distance, time and memory have lent a false enchantment to our view.

Auden’s expression has been included in some collections. For example, in 1979 “The Book of Quotes” compiled by Barbara Rowes printed the following entry: 3

A false enchantment can all too easily last a lifetime.
—W. H. Auden

In conclusion, W. H. Auden crafted the quotation and placed it into his 1970 work “A Certain World: A Commonplace Book”.

Image Notes: Cropped section of the painting “The Love Potion” circa 1903 by Evelyn De Morgan. Cropped section of portrait of W. H. Auden circa 1939 by Carl Van Vechten. Both images were accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

(Great thanks to Andy whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1970, A Certain World: A Commonplace Book by W. H. Auden, Section: Enchantment, Start Page 149, Quote Page 150, A William Cole Book: Viking Press, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1925 June 2, The Perry Journal, As the Editor Sees It: The Good Old Days, Quote Page 6, Column 1, Perry, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1979, The Book of Quotes, Compiled by Barbara Rowes, Section: Couples, Quote Page 101, A Sunrise Book: E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified on paper)