AUDEN AND ME
W.H. Auden(1907–1973) was an English poet, playwright, and essayist who lived and worked in the United States for much of the second half of his life. His work represents one of the major achievements of twentieth-century literature. “Auden took seriously his membership in the Anglican Church and derived many of his moral and aesthetic ideas from Christian doctrines developed over two millennia, but he valued his church and its doctrines only to the degree that they helped to make it possible to love one’s neighbour as oneself.”1
T.S. Eliot thought of religion as “the still point in the turning world,” “the heart of light,” “the crowned knot of fire,” “the door we never opened”—something that remained inaccessible, perfect, and eternal, whether or not he or anyone else cared about it, something absolutely unlike the sordid transience of human life.
W.H. Auden thought of religion as derived from the commandment “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”—an obligation to other human beings despite all their imperfections and his own, and an obligation to the inescapable reality of this world, not a visionary, inaccessible world that might or might not exist somewhere else.
Auden’s Christianity shaped the tone and content of his poems and was for most of his life the central focus of his art and thought. It was also the aspect of his life and work that seems to have been the least understood by his readers and friends, partly because he sometimes talked about it in suspiciously frivolous terms, partly because he used Christian vocabulary in ways that, a few centuries earlier, might have attracted the Inquisitor’s attention.1-Ron Price with thanks to 1Edward Mendelson, “Auden and God,” 6/12/’07, a review of Auden and Christianity by Arthur Kirsch in The New York Review of Books, 21/3/’13.
In October 1967 just as I was
settling into my second month
teaching grade 3 Inuit kids on
Baffin Island….W. H. Auden
gave the T. S. Eliot Lectures at
University of Kent in the UK.
Auden took-up some of Eliot’s
themes, martyrdom, & relations
between poetry, belief, words, &
Any heaven we think it decent to enter
Must be Ptolomaic with ourselves at the centre.1
Auden sought what he eventually
found: single style that was more
than capable of answering literary
need, and I did, too… as the years
passed into this new 21st century!!2
1 Auden quoted by Denis Donoghue in “Worldling”, The New York Review of Books. 19/6/’69.
2 Auden found a religious base to his poetic, as did I. I, too, was an Anglican, but only in the late 1950s, before I joined the Baha’i Faith from which I derived many of my moral and aesthetic ideas within Baha’i doctrines developed over two centuries.