Letter: Concentrate on Auden's poetic contribution not his nasty habits

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The Independent Online
WHEN we were approached about a piece to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of W H Auden ('An Auden nobody knows', 26 September) we gave the better part of a morning to discussing with your reporter the newest scholarship surrounding the work of this great poet. Instead of a commemoration that might have led readers to understand why, after 20 years, Auden's reputation as a poet, playwright, librettist, and essayist continues to rise, you produced the familiar and boring rubbishing of Auden's personal habits and sexual preferences: only a tabloid would pretend this was news.

Offered a wealth of unpublished material, your reporter ignored most of it and phoned each of us to elicit comments on Auden's sex life. One of her paragraphs was taken verbatim from our forthcoming book without attribution or quotation mark, yet she accuses Auden of pillaging the work of other people.

In youth, Auden imitated nearly everything he came across that he liked; like many great painters, he learnt at first by imitation. The significance of this is, first, that even as a teenager he was talented enough to achieve almost any style with extraordinary technical ease - not that he couldn't think of anything on his own - and second, that he was so early aware there was a poetic tradition to which he must serve an apprenticeship. Auden's artistic achievement continues to be widely underestimated in his native England; surely the time has come to cease deriding his person and to try to understand his work.

Katherine Bucknell and Richard Davenport-Hines

London W11

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