Stan Smith

Stan Smith recently became a professor of English at the University of Dundee. He is the author of Inviolable Voice: History and 20th-century Poetry and of studies of Edward Thomas and W.H. Auden, and is co-director of the Auden Concordance Project. His W.B. Yeats: A Critical Introduction is due this year.

Imagining the Suburbs

Stan Smith, 9 January 1992

Whole systems of thought have been founded on the French language’s inability to distinguish differing from deferring. Perhaps Napoleon is to blame (‘Not tonight, Josephine’). In Britain, we do things differently. Whereas Baudelaire’s vrai voyageur preferred travelling joyfully to the letdowns of arrival – in modern terms, couldn’t stop playing with his signifier – Forster’s Mrs Moore remains convinced that there is a real India to make her passage to, Conrad’s Marlow knows there’s a heart of darkness worth all the tourist’s little tribulations. From Wordsworth’s daffodils to Hughes’s brutal snowdrops, objects may flash upon the inward eye of English verse, but they are also carried alive into the heart by passion. Even that vice Anglais, nostalgia, Tennyson’s passion of the past, reinstates the metaphysics of presence, dealing not in absences but in the felt presence of loss: the souvenir snapshots are the real thing. At the end of the longest journey, where Angles do not fear to tread, waits a room with a view, and it’s usually a room of one’s own not far from Howards End. The Englishman’s referent is his castle.’

Dog Days

Stan Smith, 11 January 1990

The Helensburgh and Gareloch Times for 1 July 1931 reports that, at the Larchfield School Speech Day, ‘the boys entertained the company with two little plays, and their clever acting and clear enunciation won the approval of their audience. The first play, Sherlock Holmes chez Duhamel, was written by Mr Auden for performance by Form V. It was a representation of a visit of Sherlock Holmes to France, and showed the attitude of the French towards his methods of deduction.’ The report passes over the play in silence, preferring the scenes from The Wind in the Willows performed by Forms I and II, to conclude with a sentence that reads like a spoof news item by Auden himself: ‘The company afterwards adjourned to the lawn, where tea was served, and the boys gave a clever display of Swedish drill.’

Re E. Winter’s nunclish poem and your letters column passim:Rhyme’s dry couplings find G. Ewart even hard put to surpass him,The solitary substitute for the copulative ‘deathly’Being nothing but a wet weekend (and dirty) in Llanelli.But surely it is time to cap, put an end to, this lubricityAnd starve Ms F. Pitt-Kethley of the oxygen of pubicity?This short epistle puzzled but ejaculated pithilyI...

Just a Smack at Spufford

21 February 1991

I read a pastiche from an Arctic landThat conjured Uncle Wiz from the dim distanceWhen poets swapped Lawn Tennyson for abandonedmineshafts, pen and ink for flange and pistons.I liked the lines; and certainly our Wystan’sVerbal contraptions have worse flattery sufferedFrom francs-tireurs less frank than Francis Spufford.But (echoing Robert Post upon Post-Modernism?)He sends his letter to a man of...


19 January 1989

John Bayley says some excellent things about some of my own favourite poems in his piece ‘Pffwungg’ (LRB, 19 January), and I wouldn’t want to spoil his delight in what he calls ‘the rich nonsense magic’ of the eponymous stanza from Auden’s ‘What siren zooming’, were it not for two things. The first is the misquotation which transposes ‘time’ and ‘town’ in the first line. It...

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