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20 March 1997
Moon Country: Further Reports from Iceland 
by Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell.
Faber, 160 pp., £7.99, November 1996, 0 571 17539 2
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... This is tricky. First the facts. In 1936 W.H. Auden persuaded Faber and Faber to commission a travel book about Iceland. He spent three months in the country, part of the time travelling with his friend Louis MacNeice and a group of schoolboys and a teacher from Bryanston School. Auden and MacNeice collaborated in the writing of the book, which was published in 1937 as Letters from Iceland ...

Coldstream

Lawrence Gowing

19 March 1987
... painting and thought of their time. It must have been in 1936 that I met him at the suggestion of W.H. Auden, the friend of a friend, in the pub in Charing Cross Road nearest to Soho Square. I have told the story often – Auden had written: ‘You want to get into film because you think it is the art of the future. It ...

Young Wystan

Ian Hamilton

8 September 1994
Juvenilia: Poems 1922-28 
by W.H. Auden, edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Faber, 263 pp., £25, July 1994, 0 571 17140 0
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... W.H. Auden once revealed his ‘life-long conviction that in any company I am the youngest person present.’ This confession, made when he was 58, perhaps raised a shifty smile among those of his acolytes who had grown used to the crotchety, old-womanish persona of his later years – the early nights, the carpet slippers, and so on ...

Uncle Wiz

Stefan Collini: Auden

16 July 2015
Complete Works of W.H. AudenProse, Vol. V: 1963-68 
edited by Edward Mendelson.
Princeton, 561 pp., £44.95, June 2015, 978 0 691 15171 7
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Complete Works of W.H. AudenProse, Vol. VI: 1969-73 
edited by Edward Mendelson.
Princeton, 790 pp., £44.95, June 2015, 978 0 691 15171 7
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... Auden​ loved aphorisms, extracts, notes, lists. It was not just the shortness of short forms that he approved of: he liked their refusal of system even more, their acknowledgment that fragmentariness can only ever be papered over, never wholly subsumed. The nearest he came to publishing an autobiography, which was not very near at all, was A Certain World (1970), a commonplace book made up of his favourite quotations, arranged alphabetically under rough and ready, almost arbitrary headings, with only occasional passages of explanation or commentary ...

Taking sides

Karl Miller

17 April 1980
W.H. AudenThe Life of a Poet 
by Charles Osborne.
Eyre Methuen, 336 pp., £7.95, March 1980, 0 413 39670 3
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... In 1960, Auden completed his third decade as a poet with the volume Homage to Clio. By then, Charles Osborne writes, he was ‘widely regarded as among the few really great poets of the century’. No slur on the century seems intended here: part of what we mean by talking of great poets is that there are never very many of them about ...

Two Poems

John Burnside

11 September 2003
... Of the sadness of the creatures Pitied the limits and the lack Set in their finished features W.H. Auden As if we could sing them to sleep as hunters sing the halt deer from the herd singling it out with signals and cries to make the final kill seem providence the last steps in a dance we take their least attention for a sign of kinship some ...

I really mean like

Michael Wood: Auden’s Likes and Dislikes

2 June 2011
The Complete Works of W.H. AudenProse Vol. IV, 1956-62 
edited by Edward Mendelson.
Princeton, 982 pp., £44.95, January 2011, 978 0 691 14755 0
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... In a poem from the early 1960s, ‘On the Circuit’, W.H. Auden describes himself as ‘a sulky fifty-six’, who finds ‘A change of meal-time utter hell’, and has ‘Grown far too crotchety to like/A luxury hotel’. There is plenty of self-parody in this picture – a little later in the poem he identifies his worry about where the next drink is coming from as ‘grahamgreeneish’ – but this was a time when Auden was rearranging his sense of himself and of his world ...
17 July 1997
W.H. AudenProse 1926-38, Essays and Reviews and Travel Books in Prose and Verse 
edited by Edward Mendelson.
Faber, 836 pp., £40, March 1997, 0 571 17899 5
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... W.H. Auden’s first published book review appeared in the Criterion in April 1930, and his first sentence cuts a dash: ‘Duality is one of the oldest of our concepts; it appears and reappears in every religion, metaphysic and code of ethics; it is reflected in (or perhaps reflects) the earliest social system of which we have knowledge – the Dual Organisation in Ancient Egypt; one of its most important projections is war ...

Dome Laureate

Dennis O’Driscoll: Simon Armitage

27 April 2000
Killing Time 
by Simon Armitage.
Faber, 52 pp., £6.99, December 1999, 0 571 20360 4
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Short and Sweet: 101 Very Short Poems 
edited by Simon Armitage.
Faber, 112 pp., £4.99, October 1999, 9780571200016
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... yet, far from stoking rebellion, he writes tenderly of his parents and looks up to Ted Hughes and W.H. Auden. Asked to nominate his Book of the Century last year, he plumped for Waiting for Godot. The idea of Armitage in Beckettian exile, refusing to grant media interviews, is about as plausible as ‘Chaucer at his laptop,/auto-checking his screenplay ...

With Slip and Slapdash

Frank Kermode: Auden’s Prose

7 February 2008
TheComplete Works of W.H. Auden. Vol. III: Prose, 1949-55 
edited by Edward Mendelson.
Princeton, 779 pp., £29.95, December 2007, 978 0 691 13326 3
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... Auden more than once explained that his business was poetry and that he wrote prose to earn his keep while pursuing that ill-paid vocation. Luckily he had another powerful reason for writing prose: ‘unless I write something, anything, good, indifferent, or trashy, every day,’ he told his friend James Stern, ‘I feel ill ...

Upstaging

Paul Driver

19 August 1993
Shining Brow 
by Paul Muldoon.
Faber, 86 pp., £5.99, February 1993, 0 571 16789 6
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... Although W.H. Auden, who ranks with Hugo von Hofmannsthal among the master librettists of the age, thought that the meaning of libretto’s words were its least important component (at any rate, so far as the audience is concerned), and that a libretto is ‘really a private letter to the composer’, he also found that ‘as an art-form involving words, opera is the last refuge of the High Style ...

Comparative Everything

Geoffrey Strickland

6 March 1980
Comparative Criticism: A Yearbook 
edited by E.S. Shaffer.
Cambridge, 327 pp., £12.50, November 1979, 0 521 22296 6
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... are minor adjustments to accepted literary history. In Part II, ‘Translation in the Canon of W.H. Auden’, Dr Schaffer’s gloomy account of contemporary attempts to impose some new order on the past turns out to be vindicated. The Auden commemorated here is the consciously Nordic figure who liked to claim ...

Dream on

C.K. Stead

3 December 1992
A World of My Own: A Dream Diary 
by Graham Greene.
Reinhardt, 116 pp., £12.99, October 1992, 1 871061 36 9
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... to go (and itself the result of psychotherapy for a period of writer’ block), Greene tells how he first came to keep a record of his dreams. Though it’ not at all clear what he suffered from at school apart from a great distaste for his schoolmates’ farting, he decided after ‘eight terms – 104 weeks of monotony, humiliation and mental ...

The Wrong Blond

Alan Bennett

23 May 1985
Auden in Love 
by Dorothy Farnan.
Faber, 264 pp., £9.95, March 1985, 0 571 13399 1
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... On a bitter cold morning in January 1939 Auden and Isherwood sailed into New York harbour on board the SS Champlain. After coming through a blizzard off Newfoundland the ship looked like a wedding cake and the mood of our two heroes was correspondingly festive and expectant. On their first visit to New York the previous year Auden had sometimes been in tears, telling Isherwood no one would ever love him and that he would never have any sexual success ...

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