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1942 W.H. Auden Joins Faculty

W.H. Auden

W. H. Auden on campus in the 1960s

Acclaimed poet W. H. Auden joined Swarthmore's English faculty in 1942. During his three years on campus, Auden contributed frequently to The Dodo, a literary magazine, and to The Phoenix, in whose pages he once proclaimed: "Fellow Irresponsibles, follow me!" Auden also reviewed college plays, judged student poetry, and helped produce a student production of The Ascent of F6, a play he coauthored with Christopher Isherwood. The show was later invited to Broadway by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

In 1964, Auden received an honorary doctor of humane letters during the College's centennial celebration. When Auden returned to campus for a speaking engagement in 1971, he was remembered in The Phoenix for his "iconoclastic attacks on educational theory and societal mores."

Ever the sharp social observer, Auden reportedly had Swarthmore in mind when writing "A Healthy Spot" (1944):

They're nice - one would never dream of going over

Any contract of theirs with a magnifying

Glass, or of looking up one's letters - also

Kind and efficient - one gets what one asks for.

Just what is wrong, then, that, living among them,

One is constantly struck by the number of

Happy marriages and unhappy people?

They attend all the lectures on Post-War Problems,

For they do mind, they honestly want to help; yet,

As they notice the earth in their morning papers,

What sense do they make of its folly and horror

Who have never, one is convinced, felt a sudden

Desire to torture the cat or do a strip-tease

In a public place? Have they ever, one wonders,

Wanted so much to see a unicorn, even

A dead one? Probably. But they won't say so,

Ignoring by tacit consent our hunger

For eternal life, that caged rebuked question

Occasionally let out at clambakes or

College reunions, and which the smoking-room story

Alone, ironically enough, stands up for.