That Oxford Crowd

Today is the birthday of W. H. Auden (1907), who is worthy of an entry of his own, and I’ve done that in the past. For now, I want to know what was in the air of Oxford in the 1920s, when Auden overlapped with fellow students Louis MacNeice, Christopher Isherwood, Cecil Day-Lewis (slightly older), and Stephen Spender (slightly younger). All of them proved to be important writers. Of the five, MacNeice is my favorite poet. Day-Lewis wrote bunches of poetry and fiction, including detective fiction in the Lord Peter Wimsey vein. Isherwood wrote the stories that would become Cabaret, and Spender was a permanent presence in English letters for six decades. And Auden, of course, is Auden, responsible for some of the truly great poems of the century, including his elegy, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” his poem on the coming of WWII, “September 1, 1939,” and “Musee des Beaux Arts,” which he begins with, “About suffering they were never wrong, the old Masters.” And neither was he.