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This review is taken from PN Review 27, Volume 9 Number 1, September - October 1982.

'O PINIONS!' W. H. Auden and Paul B. Taylor, Norse Poems (Athlone) £7.95

Ever since Christopher Isherwood made it seem important, Auden's interest in things Icelandic has been well attended to, and apparently well attested. Auden believed himself to be of Icelandic descent; and that particular fancy, although it never had much basis in likelihood, has been treated by many as a significant fact, or at least as a nice occasion for rhetoric. (Cyril Connolly wrote of Auden's 'extraordinary greenish eyes suggesting that iceberg glare he liked to claim from his Norse ancestors'; Stephen Spender of 'a clinical-minded oracle with a voice that could sound as depersonalized as a Norn's in a Norse saga'.) Auden went twice to Iceland, although on each occasion, perhaps, pragmatism weighed equally with enthusiastic sentiment. The 1936 trip was linked to the writing of a travel book, Letters from Iceland, with Louis MacNeice; the journey of 1964 was followed closely by the reissue of Letters from Iceland (minus some excellent photographs but with all the misspellings of Icelandic words and proper names left intact). In 1969 appeared The Elder Edda, a selection of translations from early Icelandic poetry which Auden had made between 1966 and 1969 with Paul B. Taylor. Both men had had advice and encouragement from Peter H. Salus, who to some extent prompted and supervised the whole endeavour.

Only sixteen of the poems resulting from this collaboration were printed in The Elder Edda. Norse Poems contains more than forty, including a version of the interesting Christian poem, 'The Sun Song'. As a ...


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