W.H. Auden. I wrote about him yesterday. I thought I knew him/his work, even though I hadn't known he was gay when I began my studies on him for my master's thesis, nor did I know his birth date. I kept on thinking about those gaps in my knowledge, the first mostly attributable to the fact that no one mentioned homosexuality in my day. My professor would have been too tongue-tied to tell me. The other gaping hole, seemingly so simple, was part of an overall lack of any information I had about the man, Auden. Very little emphasis was put on the life of any writer we studied. I didn't even realize how far-reaching this approach was until quite recently when a definitive biography of Aldous Huxley was published. I had read all of his novels and thought I knew him. NOT. Only then did I start to put the blanks together. In my day, during my particular years of study, teachers and. therefore, students focused entirely on the writer and not on his (rarely her) life. Close reading of the text was uppermost. This approach wasn't bad; it gave me an eye and an ear for good writing, especially poetry. One learned about the artist from his (her) work and not from the events of a life. This discipline made me a good reviewer and a quick study. It certainly made impossible any bias on, prejudice against or judgement of the person's behaviour. Knowing nothing of their lives, I brought an open mind to the writers' work.
So, yesterday, as I read Alexander McCall Smith's book about Auden ("What W.H. Auden Can Do For You"), I found his assessment of the poet's political life was, not quite news to me, but unexplored territory. In the light of this new-to-me emphasis, I have to go back and re-read a lot of Auden's poetry. My thesis was about his critical attitudes, not his politics. It will be a pleasure to revisit him. Learn something every day. Re-learn something every decade. Or so.