February 21, 2007


Enthusiasts defend Auden's reputation on centenary (Martin Wainwright, February 22, 2007, Guardian)

"He has been much criticised for leaving Britain when he did," said Dr Rhodes, who lectures in literature and visual culture at Sussex University. "Traditionalists condemned him for that while the left and radicals denounced the way he changed his views, his religious conversion and the way he seemed to retreat into lyrical poetry. But it's hard to see those opinions accounting for the lack of interest among today's students."

There are smaller initiatives which attest to Auden's enduring appeal. In York taxi drivers have adopted the poet for a Culture Cab scheme, in which drivers memorise Auden's work to make visitors feel welcome to the city where he was born. It is an initiative typical of what academics call the "Four Weddings phenomenon", which has given Auden - or a small number of his 400-plus poems - a mass audience, while specialist work dwindles on his life and verse.

Hugh Haughton, lecturer in English and related literature at York University and another speaker at the conference, said: "It is a mystery that he is not more studied, but this could be a reason. We are comfortable with modernists, or with poets of the everyday such as Larkin. But what do we do when faced with someone who could do both? Auden's ability to travel between different types of poetry and to master them all seems to be hard for us to digest. It is like dealing with two people - a parallel with the problems people have in coping with his Marxist early years and conservative views later on."

Lyricism, of course, follows necessarily from the other choices.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2007 8:19 PM
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