Arts and Entertainment The loss of happiness: Giacomo Leopardi

This extraordinary 'mish-mash' opens up the creative workshop of Italy's great Romantic poet


"Ledbury - Land of poets" proclaims the inaugural Ledbury Poetry Festival programme. You can forgive a newcomer to the cut-throat world of midsummer festivals pretty much any hubristic marketing ploy, especially when it's devoting itself to an artform that's as old as the hills, and subject to more ageist comments than an Eighties Radio 1 DJ. But this "picturesque and thriving" Herefordshire market town - "land" of poets? The alliteration hints at the justification: for it was on the nearby Malvern hills that William Langland set off on his Middle English epic Piers Ploughman: `In a somer seson, whan softe was the sonne'. The sun may be nowhere to be seen during the festival, but there should be plenty to transport you elsewhere. At the very least, coaches, providing visits to the area's poetic haunts: those of Langland, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Dymock poets, as well as the home of Ledbury's Poet Laureate, John Masefield. When you learn that WH Auden taught in the local school and got "married" to Thomas Mann's daughter, Erika, there, you might really start to wonder whether it shouldn't be "Ledbury: leyline of poets".


When not crafting his poetry, W H Auden wrote to order: reviewing detective stories, penning encyclopaedia entries and writing for the BBC. A collection of his essays shows him happily working 'among the filthy', in prose

Like the village, the production is model

There's a moment in Die Meistersinger where Sachs the poet-cobbler tells Beckmesser the singing town-clerk, "You finish the song, I'll finish the shoes"; and though it's just a passing exchange, it touches on something important to the piece, namely the easy interaction between art and life in a world which Wagner has envisaged as a template for Arcadia. A world where barriers come down (except of course the one that keeps out foreigners) and culture claims its rightful place within the hearts of ordinary, decent (German) men and women.

Education: Passed/Failed: Robert Robinson

Robert Robinson, 69, presents `Brain of Britain', `Ad Lib' and, also on Radio 4, the forthcoming `Conversations With Strangers'. His autobiography, `Skip All That', was published at the end of last year.

The human condition: What really does become of the broken-hearted?

Losing the one you love not only makes you feel like death, it can literally make you ill. Jane Fitzgerald on the physical effects of heartbreak

Obituary:Ilona Ference

Ilona Ference was a talented and useful member of any theatrical production - although in appearance and temperament she was, in George Bernard Shaw's words, one of "Pharaoh's lean kind". She was one of those scrawny but admirable actresses - Mary Merrall, Joyce Carey and Una O'Connor spring to mind - who graced fine plays with fine performances even if they were perhaps precluded by their pert, bird-like qualities from full richness of character. As Athene Seyler used to say of her Prossie in Shaw's Candida, "Spare, my dear, spare."

When Igor Stravinsky met WH Auden

When Stravinsky invited Auden to come to Hollywood (from New York) in November, 1947, to work on the projected opera The Rake's Progress, Auden was, by his own admission, scared stiff. He had greatly admired the composer ever since, at age 16, he had bought Three Easy Pieces. But a week was a long time. Stravinsky might well turn out to be a tempestuous Russian prima donna. Should he, Auden, pack a dinner jacket? Kiss hands on arrival, a la russe?

Arts: Maps of the human heart

A map's contours can be as familiar as the lines on a loved one's face. They not only tell us where we are going, but where we have come from. By Roger Deakin

Poignant video that says: speed does kill

The assembled press was silent as the television screen went blank, and the minister, Steven Norris, was fighting back tears as he tried to speak. No one could disagree when he finally managed to blurt out that "this is the most powerful advertisement ever seen on British television".

Amour and avarice

profile: Claire Tomalin on a sharp eye that focused on the material advantages of love

Are you goin' to read my poem?

Today is National Poetry Day

ode to youth and beauty

In the run up to National Poetry Day, Dominic Cavendish asks: what does it take to be a poet these days?

Books we recommend...

The Redress of Poetry: Oxford Lectures by Seamus Heaney (Faber, pounds 15.99). The best lectures by an Oxford Professor of Poetry since WH Auden's 40 years ago.

Life: The fantasist that time forgot

Auden, MacNeice, Isherwood, Spender. Gone. But one writer, who once blazed as bright as the rest, survives. Jonathan Ford meets Edward Upward

The chain-smoking, plate-smashing mother of orgasms

Frieda Lawrence was infuriating, vital, lumpen-aristocratic, revolting - and wonderful. A Genius for Living: A Biography of Frieda Lawrence by Janet Byrne Bloomsbury, pounds 20
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