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Spender & Auden

In response to:

A Poet in Politics from the January 25, 1979 issue

To the Editors:

John Bayley (NYR, January 25) quotes a few lines of verse as an example of the kind of poetry W.H. Auden eventually “dropped from his collected canon.” However, the poem quoted was not dropped at all, and it may be found, in a version dating from 1928, on page thirty-three of Auden’s Collected Poems, as part of the verse-play “Paid on Both Sides.”

Professor Bayley also writes: “It is a pity [Stephen] Spender has not written novels.” He will find Spender’s novel The Backward Son (1940) worth pursuing, and the novellas and stories in The Burning Cactus (1936) and Engaged in Writing (1958) are even better.

Edward Mendelson

Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut

John Bayley replies:

Professor Mendelson is quite right—a two-line version of the four-line beginning of a presumably vanished poem from the Auden canon did end up in “Paid on Both Sides” (1928 edition). But the quotation belongs to a period when poems and bits of them led a more or less tribal and migratory existence among the early Auden mythic utterance.

Professor Mendelson is of course right as well about Spender’s admirable novel and near-novels. The implication of my remark was that, like Philip Larkin, he wanted to be, and perhaps could have been, a well-known novelist. And that is something different again!

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