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This article is taken from PN Review 38, Volume 10 Number 6, May - June 1984.

The Picture of Little Wisdom in a Prospect of Boredom Michael Hulse

When he reviewed Edward Mendelson's Early Auden in The Observer (27 September 1981) Stephen Spender committed a fine nonsequitur confusion of art and life which Auden wouldn't have been guilty of, but I offer the following not so much for that as for the anecdote:


All this is not to deny that Auden was lonely. It was the loneliness of the poet who goes so far in creating his own imaginary world that he eventually becomes engulfed in it and it shuts out the interest of the real world. Towards the end, he is left sitting in an armchair in his study, reading his own poems. This tendency became so noticeable that on one occasion, really out of curiosity, I asked him how it was that he talked about nothing but himself. He looked at me, a bit surprised, and asked: 'What else could I have to talk about?'


This is a Wystan Auden we're all familiar with, especially if we've read Carpenter's biography. It is Auden converting self-obsession into self-projection out of a wish to appear Goethean: it is little Wystan posing as Wisdom. When he arrived at St Edmund's, aged eight, Wisdom commented to matron: 'I like to see the various types of boys.' He lectured his schoolmates on the Great Schism. At the homes of Oxford fellow-students he burnt furniture, sneered at the food, piled carpets and curtains on his bed, and complained, 'my tea tastes like tepid ...


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