Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Happy birthday W. H. Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden was born on 21 February 1907. I am inclined to name him as the greatest English poet of the twentieth century; certainly, as Edward Mendelson wrote in his introduction to Auden's Selected Poems:
Auden was the first poet writing in English who felt at home in the twentieth century. He welcomed into his poetry all the disordered conditions of his time, all its variety of language and event. In this, as in almost everything else, he differed from his modernists predecessors such as Yeats, Lawrence, Eliot or Pound, who had turned nostalgically away from a flawed present to some lost illusory Eden where life was unified, hierarchy secure, and the grand style a natural extension of the vernacular. All of this Auden rejected.
A good introduction to Auden's poetic landscape is the article "Auden in the North". No authors are given, but I believe it to be by Alan Myers and Robert Forsythe.

And as an example of his work, try this chorus from The Dog Beneath the Skin - a play he wrote with Christopher Isherwood:
Now through night's caressing grip
Earth and all her oceans slip,
Capes of China slide away
From her fingers into day
And the Americas incline
Coasts towards her shadow line.
Now the ragged vagrants creep
Into crooked holes to sleep:
Just and unjust, worst and best,
Change their places as they rest:
Awkward lovers lie in fields
Where disdainful beauty yields:
While the splendid and the proud
Naked stand before the crowd
And the losing gambler gains
And the beggar entertains:
May sleep's healing power extend
Through these hours to our friend.
Unpursued by hostile force,
Traction engine, bull or horse
Or revolting succubus;
Calmly till the morning break
Let him lie, then gently wake.
Auden died in 1973, but it is worth recording that another literary figure of the 1930s who also collaborated with Isherwood, Edward Upward, is still alive at the age of 103.


Anonymous said...

'But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time'
- As I Walked Out One Evening
by W. H. Auden
A wonderful poet. Happy Birthday W.H Auden.
Also,drop into my blog on birthday ecards for some beautiful e-greeting cards and other interesting info.

Rob Fenwick said...

Robert Forsythe did a lot of work with my mother when she was running a museum in the North Pennines, which resulted in an exhibition also called 'Auden in the North', but I believe that's now in storage somewhere.

However, Myers and Forsythe also published a short book "Auden: Pennine Poet" through the museum trust (if I remember rightly my mum is credited on the acknowledgements page!) which is worth a read. It can be bought from:

Anonymous said...

I was never Auden's greatest fan, always preferring Larkin, but his anniversary does deserve more recognition than it has been given.