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Black and white photo of middle-aged W.H. Auden holding a cigarette.

A Daydream University For Poets, Designed By W.H. Auden


Auden once dreamt of the perfect University for Bards, and he described the lessons that could be taught there.

Wystan Hugh Auden was an English poet and playwright who, among other things, tried to save language from oblivion and decay. In his work he achieved a rhythm that evokes the universal patterns of human existence; when one reads him, it is as if one’s body was suddenly aligned with an ancient, marine flow. His fascination with prosodic techniques made poetry, music and gardens become very much one and the same.

In one of his many analytical dreams, Auden imagined a perfect school for poets, and in 1962, in his essay “The Poet and the City”, he wrote:

In my daydream College for Bards, the curriculum would be as follows:

  1. In addition to English, at least one ancient language, probably Greek or Hebrew, and two modern languages would be required.
  2. Thousands of lines of poetry in these languages would be learned by heart.
  3. The library would contain no books of literary criticism, and the only critical exercise required of students would be the writing of parodies.
  4. Courses in prosody, rhetoric and comparative philology would be required of all students, and every student would have to select three courses out of courses in mathematics, natural history, geology, meteorology, archaeology, mythology, liturgics, cooking.
  5. Every student would be required to look after a domestic animal and cultivate a garden plot.’

And he added:

A poet has not only to educate himself as a poet; he has also to consider how he is going to earn his living. Ideally, he should have a job which does not in any way involve the manipulation of words, the best thing he could do is get into some craft.

Although many consider a poet’s work to be obsolete and unimportant, we only need to look at the life this Bard led with honor and beauty to realize this is not the case. Through some of the aforementioned points (in addition to his musical collaboration with Stravinsky), he gained an ability to communicate, in an orderly fashion, with the specters of language and thus share them with the world.

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