Rumors, Awe Surround Auden's Arrival Here

by Dick Lyman, published in the October 20, 1942 issue of the Phoenix

The arrival of W.H. Auden, one of the most distinguished of modern poets, to the College faculty as a "lecturer in English," was accompanied by the usual combination of a sparse, simple statement of his presence and a host of rumors. Said rumors chiefly consisted of the simple type best exemplified by "I saw him in the Music Shop," proclaimed in awed tones. As for the students, they ranged from very impressed (those who know Auden's work) to moderately impressed (those who know his name and distinction) to confused (the "Who is he?" group).

Phoenix, anxious to avoid being the last to see Mr. Auden, even if it couldn't be the first, did the unexpected thing by simple going to see him. The first excursion to "Sunnybank," the house in which he is living, was made (appropriately) in pouring rain. He wasn't home, but a later trip proved more successful. "Sunnybank," this time seen by moonlight (we never can see it in the sun), is a smallish house set far back from the road, out on the far side of the ville. Mr. Auden walks over a mile to campus - and likes it.

Taught in England

First, let it be said that he does not expect everyone to be overwhelmed at the name Auden, or even be familiar with it. Those who aren't, however, are missing acquaintance not only with a noted writer but with a very genuinely friendly man. He was far from intimidating - in fact it was hard to interview him simply because it was so easy simply to talk with him.

Mr. Auden has been in this country four years. This is not the first school with a background in the Society of Friends at which he has taught. The other was a school in England, where he was from 1932 to 1935. He went to Oxford, and is anxious to see how the seminar system here compares with the tutorial system there.

Something Clicked

Inevitably, we asked him how he came to be a writer. He said that he had always wanted to be a mining engineer. After we had gulped and regained control of our pencil, Mr. Auden went on to say that he was out walking with a friend about 3:30 one afternoon in March, 1922, and his friend asked, "Have you ever written any poetry?" Mr. Auden says that, with this question, "Something seemed to click inside me." Never since then has he changed in his desire to write.

His first book, entitled (simply enough) "Poems," appeared in 1930. Since then there have been about 11 books and "a couple of editing jobs," to say nothing of several plays in collaboration with the English novelist, Christopher Isherwood.

As for the future, Mr. Auden is combining teaching Elizabethan Literature with writing. He is not teaching full time because he holds a Guggenheim fellowship. Next semester he is teaching a seminar in romantic literature "from Rousseau to Hitler." In the line of writing, Mr. Auden would not admit any plans except that which he says should be common to all writers - "All you can say is that you want to write better."


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