Sunday, 18 May 2014

W H Auden: 1907-1973 Part 1

I've been trawling through the archives at the library again, and in particular for Sundays, "The Pilot" which was the monthly magazine for the Church of England in Jersey for many years. Every month, there would be pieces from the minister of each church, along with various other articles of interest.

In 1995, the Reverend Tony Keogh began a series of articles in "The Pilot" under the umbrella title "God and the Poets", and here is the part of his three part series on W.H. Auden. I thought it was a shame that it should be buried in the past, so I've transcribed it for my blog.

God and the Poets: W H Auden: 1907-1973 Part 1
By Tony Keogh

W.H. Auden was a man who "inspired" love. Everyone who met him spoke of his kindness, generosity and humility. He was not only a poet but a writer of plays and prose. His literary criticism and his lectures reveal one of the finest Christian minds of his generation, yet in him was the enigma of the human condition. How can such heavenly gifts be-found in so earthy and human a body, for one cannot avoid the more sordid aspects of his life.

The Protestant work ethic was at the heart of the man; he had a fetish for punctuality and the ordered day, his output was prodigious - to quote Stephen Spender, he was "untidy, untied up, short-sighted. He drank too much for many years and at the last; crawled around in carpet slippers (he suffered from corns) and ragged clothes, never without a cigarette between his lips, his once fair and pallid face rugged.

Henry Moore described his face thus, "... its deep furrows like: plough marks, crossing a field:" Spender again, "He was more unrecognisably different when old from when young than most people." He was homosexual and knew agonies of love which are perhaps especially acute for that orientation, though for the: last thirty-four years of his life, he had a permanent relationship with Chester Kallman who, among other things, taught-him to love opera, and became his collaborator as librettist and one of the two men - Christopher Isherwood was the other - who could criticise his work without causing pain.. Whatever else the relationship gave him, it certainly gave him security.

In. his inaugural lecture .as Professor of Poetry at Oxford, in 1956, Auden maintained that. "knowledge of an. artist's life, temperament and opinions is unimportant to an. understanding of his work". This may be disputed, though it is possible for an understanding of the work to be perverted by too prurient an interest in the private life.

Many of the artistically inclined live simultaneously in higher and lower worlds and although the latter may take over: and lay a trail of wastage and destruction, it is not always so, although it does seem to be a constant theme of recent biographers. We have discovered in recent years that Einstein was a wife beater, Churchill a racist, Larkin a porn enthusiast and, recently, Grahame Greene: has been shown to have been a somewhat bizarre adulterer. At the end of it all, though, it does seem almost sinful to allow the glory of a batsman's innings, full of wondrous strokes, to be marred in our minds: by the awareness; painful to the moralist as this may be, that he maybe a womaniser or over addicted to whisky; and we should not always be looking for an author's autobiography in his work.

In the next two articles, we will look at Auden's writing and the Christian Faith which suffused the last half of his life... We may heed lines from the final stanza of Auden's poem, "At the Grave of Henry James" with which Humphrey Carpenter concludes his biography:

"There are many whose works
Are in better taste than their lives. "

No comments: