The last, chronologically speaking, of the poets I shall discuss – and the only one I actually met – is W H Auden. His was the generation that grew up just after the First World War, so they were without the intensity of subject matter that Wilfred Owen and his contemporaries displayed. But they had to deal with a new world order, and their poetry is replete with efforts to develop a system of values to help face the changing political and social circumstances.
In the end this involved, in the case of Auden and one of the contemporaries closely associated with him, the novelist Christopher Isherwood, a rejection of the world they grew up in, and both escaped to America during the Second World War. The third of the group, Stephen Spender, stayed on in England, though as a conscientious objector.
Auden’s attitude to the different world that was emerging can be seen in one of his more light-hearted poems, the letter to Lord Byron that he wrote from Iceland. The objects of his satire and the preposterous juxtapositions he engages in are multifarious: Carnegie one of the first rags to riches millionaires who devoted the latter part of his life to philanthropy; the highly conservative Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, listening to jazz; Oswald Mosley, who led the Black Shirts, the British political grouping that supported Hitler (the Teutonic Fuhrer-Prinzip), persuading Lord Byron to lead his storm troopers; the Pope joining the Moral Rearmament group; and what he thinks incredible, Lord Nuffield who built up the Morris motor business being poor, or anyone thinking British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin to be honest. Continue reading