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'"No permission to be idle": W H Auden's work ethics

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)

Published
Publication date08/2015
Host publicationAuden at work
EditorsBonnie Costello, Rachel Galvin
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
PublisherPalgrave-Macmillan
Pages275-293
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781137452924
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Auden had a complicated attitude toward “work.” If at times he defined it as “action forced on us by the will of another” and opposed “Homo Ludens” to “Homo Laborans,” at others he regarded it as the necessary component of a fully balanced life, asserting in a late essay the interdependence of the worlds of “Work,” “Carnival,” and “Prayer.” But what is the nature of the ‘work’ involved in that poetic making? In his Oxford inaugural, Auden suggested that if his first question about a newly-encountered poem was “technical,” his second was “moral.” It is this connection (or even inseparability) of technique and morality that Sharpe examines in this chapter. He shows that “work,” as a necessary and even disciplinary activity, resembles what Auden felt that poetry should be: a disenchantment and a disintoxication. He emphasized that his early reading in the technical literature about lead mining was formative, and offered a crucially educative example of the point at which ‘imagination’ needed to be tempered by “reality.” Sharpe examines the mining books Auden used, tracing their appearances in his poetry and exploring their influence both practical and ethical.