[In Our Time] Auden


19/12/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=90421491
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/6/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p07yc2wz.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the life and poetry of WH Auden (1907-1973) up to his departure from Europe for the USA in 1939. As well as his personal life, he addressed suffering and confusion, and the moral issues that affected the wider public in the 1930s and tried to unpick what was going wrong in society and to understand those times. He witnessed the rise of totalitarianism in the austerity of that decade, travelling through Germany to Berlin, seeing Spain in the Civil War and China during its wars with Japan, often collaborating with Christopher Isherwood. In his lifetime his work attracted high praise and intense criticism, and has found new audiences in the fifty years since his death, sometimes taking literally what he meant ironically.


Mark Ford
Poet and Professor of English at University College London

Janet Montefiore
Professor Emerita of 20th Century English Literature at the University of Kent


Jeremy Noel-Tod
Senior Lecturer in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen date: 2020-02-14


  • Auden’s dad was a doctor and his grandfathers were priests. According to the panel, this shaped his poetry into an odd mix of prophecy and diagnosis (this country is sick and needs a cure), that used scientific images to make emotional statements.
  • This is an interesting contrast to the last but one In Our Time episode, on Lawrence of Arabia, whose romanticism was of the medieval and possibly never-really-existed; while Auden loved the imagery of the abandoned tin mines of York
  • Interesting learning: Stop All the Clocks (or Funeral Blues, the poem used in Four Weddings and a Funeral which massively repopularised Auden) was satirical about state funerals and heterosexual love. 4WAAF took it at face value.
  • I need to find and read The Night Mail.
  • I also need to find the poem being discussed about the dragon, and read it in full. Ah, it’s Letter to Lord Byron. Good grief, it’s huge.
  • So Auden had a beef with George Orwell. Or rather, the other way around. Orwell was definitely homophobic in how he expressed it.
  • Auden had a messed up romantic and sex life; and also kept comparing romantic love to fascism and grumbling about the absence of universal love / agape.


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