Stanford University
ENGLISH 150C: The Poetry of W. H. Auden
Winter 2007

Home page image.
2007 is the 100th year after W. H. Auden's birth, and hence the most auspicious of moments to look at the work of this wonderful poet.

Historical transitions, fate, exile, cosmopolitanism, sexuality, modernity -- these are some of the themes focussing this seminar's reading of W. H. Auden's poetry. Auden (1907-1973) was the first major English-speaking poet to be born in the 20th century, the first poet to introduce a television set into the landscape of a poem, the first to make a transatlantic flight, the first to live in a world of "sophisticated | weapon-systems and sick jokes."

As these facts emblematically imply, his poems inhabit, and reflect on, a world startlingly like our own. In literary terms, he was the first great poet to emerge after the period of high modernism in the 1920s, thus providing a crucial link between the modernist movement and later post-modern(ist) developments. In historical terms, he was the first major poet to study English Literature as an academic discipline at university, just as he was the first post-imperial English poet (Auden was born in Britain but he became an American in 1939).

These distinctive cultural markers produced a body of poetry which is dazzlingly varied and exciting both in form and content (one of our goals during the quarter will be to examine how far one can generalize about a single, characteristic Auden poem or Auden style). More so than many writers, Auden was a poet of serial selves, a poet "contained multitudes." In addition, his output, both poetic and otherwise, was encyclopedic. (The only major literary form he did not attempt was the novel.) In this course we will be concentrating on Auden's poetry, but we will also read (or in one case look at) selections from his essays, his plays, his travel books, his film scripts, his correspondence -- all are, in some sense, the scattered parts of one huge text and all will sharpen our understanding of the poems that are Auden's most important achievement.

The seminar will make an effort to assess Auden's place and role in literary history, setting him in relation to his poetic precursors, contemporaries, and successors.

We will also look at how Auden's words have re-entered history and been read and used (or mis-used) in a wide variety of political contexts, from the Spanish Civil War in the middle 1930s, through the American presidential election of 1964, to the widespread use of his poetry as a national solace during the period in Britain after the death of the Princess of Wales and after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

Meeting Time & Place
MW 3.15pm - 5.05pm - 160-328

Instructors Office Hours & Location
Nicholas Jenkins M 9.15am-10.45am, F 9.45am - 11.15am, Bldg. 460, Rm. 213

To access the course website (registered students only):

This page was generated by Stanford University CourseWork
Copyright © 2001-2002 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University.