Early Auden poems discovered in school magazine from 1920s

A collection of previously unknown poems, thought to be early examples of the work of W H Auden, have been unearthed in a school magazine.

The poems, which will form part of centenary celebrations for Wystan Hugh Auden at Gresham's School next week, were discovered by John Smart, a former head of art, who chanced across them while researching the life of another literary old boy. Mr Smart is writing a biography of John Hayward, a close friend of T S Eliot and an important critic of his work. In the course of his research, he read old copies of The Gresham, the magazine Hayward edited during his time at the school in Holt, Norfolk, where he was a pupil a couple of years before Auden.

In one of the journals, Mr Smart came across a poem entitled "Evening and Night on Primrose Hill", which, like most of the verse in the magazine, was unsigned.

In her definitive collection of Auden's "Juvenilia", the author Katherine Bucknell refers to a sonnet the poet wrote about Primrose Hill in north-west London, which had been lost. The poem was also published opposite "Dawn", which is accepted as one of Auden's early works.

Although what he had found was not a sonnet, Mr Smart detected some Auden hallmarks, including the rhyme of "hill" and "still" and "the way that he likes to end his poems with almost an epiphany". The poem was published on 16 December 1922, the year in which Auden decided to become a poet while on a walk with his friend Robert Medley. During the walk, in March, Medley asked Auden whether he wrote poetry. Years later, Auden recalled his reply in his poem "Letter to Lord Byron": "I never had, and said so, but I knew/ That very moment what I wished to do."

Auden knew Primrose Hill, from his visits to stay with Medley, who lived in London. The poem describes how: "City men in bowler hats, return now day is done/ Rejoicing in the embers of the sun."

Mr Smart believes a second poem published in The Gresham, on 28 July 1923, entitled "To a Tramp met in the Holidays in Monmouthshire", can also be attributed to Auden. The poet, whose family hailed from Birmingham, was a regular visitor to Monmouth, and it is unlikely that many of his fellow pupils at Gresham's, the most easterly public school in England, would have known the area. And again, the poem contains Auden's trademark rhyme: "hill/ still".

There is less evidence to link a third poem, "Enchanted", to Auden, but Mr Smart argues that its subject matter – an enchanted pool where "Merlin shall entice thy feet", reflected the poet's debt to Walter de la Mare's poems on magic and fairies.

Mr Smart said: "None of the poems I've found I could claim was a great poem." But, he added that the juxtaposition of "Evening and Night on Primrose Hill" and the more traditional "Dawn" in 1922, the year in which T S Eliot's The Waste Land and James Joyce's Ulysses were published, showed "the modern, put against the old way – two totally different styles".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Support Engineer

£20000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Support Engi...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence