In this article, the novelist and dramatist Christopher Isherwood, a lifelong friend of W H Auden, discusses the themes and influences underpinning Auden’s early verse. The article was published in a special ‘Auden Double Number’ in New Verse, an influential literary magazine edited by the poet Geoffrey Grigson.
According to Isherwood, there are three aspects of Auden’s biography which are crucial to understanding his work: his scientific interest and training; his love of music and the ceremonial aspect of religion; and his Scandinavian ancestry, which inspired his love of Icelandic legends and Old Nordic sagas.
Auden and Isherwood met when they were schoolboys and collaborated in several literary projects during the 1930s. During the years he spent as an undergraduate at Oxford, Auden often sent his works to Isherwood for comment and advice.
Auden Double Number
Many well-known writers, among them several of Auden’s friends and acquaintances such as Stephen Spender, Graham Greene, Louis MacNeice, and Dylan Thomas, wrote articles for the issue. The existence of this double number celebrating Auden’s literary achievements, which was published when the poet was just 30 years old, is evidence of his standing as the leading poet of his generation. In the cover, the editorial describes Auden as ‘the first English poet in many years who is a poet all the way round…He is traditional, revolutionary, energetic, inquisitive, critical, and intelligent’.