Auden Turns Campus Poetry-Conscious As He Comments on Life and Writings

by Jacqui Quadow, published in the April 9, 1940 issue of the Phoenix

Wystan Hugh Auden has spent six days at the College. Before he came to stay at the Blanshards' we knew a lot about him because there was a very good display of commentary and pictures of him and his contemporary British poets in the library, and because the circulation of his books went way up. We were expecting a tow-haired Englishman, a major star on the poetic horizon, and that is what we discovered, plus a delightful conversationalist.

When the PHOENIX went to see Mr. Auden, it was bursting with questions it wanted to ask. He answered them all with a twinkle in his eye and a completely fresh and crisp flow of words. When he speaks, it is always with interest and enthusiasm, and sometimes the sentences trail off in gestures, as significant as any verbiage could have been.

Planned Engineering Career

Sitting on Mrs. Blanshard's green sofa, and smoking an endless succession of cigarettes, Mr. Auden was amazed at the number of college publications in America. We assured him there was a difference between press boards and yearbooks, newspapers and literary magazines, even on a campus as small as ours. Comparable in his interest in all things American was his genuine desire to find out about our thinking. Only two taboos did he pronounce in his interview; we were to expect no answers from him on the European war or about his opinion of living writers, English or American.

When we asked him how he started writing, he smiled, and confided that in his youth, that is, "from the ages of four to sixteen," he had been completely and terribly fascinated by mining machines and engineering. He assured us that to him there had been no question that his career lay in those fields. One day, however, he was walking with a friend who inquired if Wystan had ever written poetry. When he said, no, he suddenly realized that writing poetry was what he had to do, that the earlier interest had actually been a symbol.

Finds America Lonely

Our questions led us to wonder how he felt about America, and the Mr. Auden positively glowed. He has formed many ideas about our land: our cities' complexities, the distance we will travel for a thing we want, the complete possession which the machine has taken of us, and our addiction to noise as an escape. He has been particularly impressed, first from reading American literature and now from personal observation, by our universal loneliness. Through the influence of the machine, he asserted, the old communal patterns, still present though dying in Europe, have broken up in this country. We have intense anguish in achieving the person-to-person relationships which used to mark the society of neighbors who knew each other.

America is a dangerous and challenging place in which to live, says Mr. Auden, and the only place for a writer today. Therefore he is glad to be in New York, where America, or a good part of America, happens. He said without hesitation that Melville was the best known American author in England. And from our vantage of the campus scene, W.H. Auden would seem to us the most popular English poet in Swarthmore.


Phoenix archive < Auden Turns Campus Poetry-Conscious > Rumors, Awe Surround Auden's Arrival Here

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