W H Auden – in an age of Anxiety

This particular BBC documentary by Adam Low on W H Auden shows how well his poetry is written, how current and up-to-date it sounds.  His “Funeral Blues”  (“Stop all the clocks….”) became the go-to poem for funerals after it featured in the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral”.  And after the calamitous World Trade Centre bombing of 11 Sept – THE public poem which the New York Times and others turned to, to sum up the times was Auden’s poem “September 1st, 1939”, just before England announced its entry into world war 2.

At the time of writing, this nearly hourlong documentary is available to view on Youtube.  It is also periodically viewable in the UK via the BBC i-Player and repeat schedule.  Worth keeping an eye out for.  (The BBC version is of course the official version and better one – the Youtube version has a technical snafu near the end, where a part of the audio is repeated, over the top of comments about Auden’s car and some photos and comments).

It’s a brilliant walkthrough the main periods of W H Auden’s life and writing, pointing out that he felt it was important to respond to the social and political influences of his time, as a poet.   At the very end of the documentary, and therefore in a key position, as a leaving insight, is the poet Paul Muldoon’s observation that:

“The great work of art is built to last and we go back to it – and each time we go back to it, we see something we simply did not see before – and it’s one of the reasons he’s survived when so many others have eventually fallen by the wayside.”

As well as writing important poems of 20th and 21st century society – which are still powerful, Auden also co-edited the “Faber book of aphorisms”. (An aphorism is a brief but telling observation of truth, often witty).

“Why I fell in love with Auden again and again” is one journalist’s account recently (Christmas Day, 2017) of finding his poems personally meaningful, for over 30 years.  A very readable short article, with great quotes and examples.

For more of an immersive approach, try the one recommended by Alex James of Blur (UK pop group) in an earlier blog post.  If you’ve celebrated Christmas in your family, you may have a bit of money or a book token burning a hole in your pocket…… a local independent bookshop will be happy to let you look through their poetry section and choose a book…. and they should have at least one by Auden.


Screen shot 2017-12-30 at 16.18.17
Poet W H Auden in interview




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