Kipling and Auden

Swimming at Tooting Lido, under threatening grey storm clouds, reflecting on its 1930s art deco architecture, I thought of the 1930s poet W.H. Auden and it began to dawn on me that he and Kipling have more in common than you might at first think. Both:

  1. dominated their decade (the 1890s for Kipling, the 1930s for Auden), influencing everyone, becoming a climate
  2. are non-Romantic, external poets, interested in the outside world and in the machinery of modern life, in new technologies, in devices and gadgets – rather than their own personal feelings or spiritual development
  3. are deeply political poets, writing poems commentating on the great events of their time; compare Kipling’s ‘White Man’s Burden‘ with Auden’s ‘Spain‘. Different in every respect, except they are engaging with the key events of their day
  4. are deeply moral poets. Both recommend sets of value – Kipling’s stiff upper lip imperial Duty; Auden’s a) 30s pinkoism b) after the war, Christian humanism
  5. are interested in northern European, Nordic culture, Border ballads, Anglo-Saxon. Ie they’re both relatively uninfluenced by Mediterranean culture, in particular the French poetry which strongly influenced other English writers
  6. are interested in out-of-the-way vocabulary, technical terms, slangs and argots – Kipling imported hundreds of words from India and Auden used to read the OED for pleasure
  7. are fluent and prolific, writing hundreds of poems…
  8. … partly because they are untouched by the Modernist feeling that each poem must be a dauntingly intense masterpiece which creates its own form; instead both are happy to work in traditional forms, knocking out limericks and epigrams and comic verse and dramatic monologues and hymns and exulting in their virtuosity…
  9. both were very short-sighted – possibly linked to their tendency to deploy large capitalised Abstract words, or recherche vocabularies – both tendencies away from the lush, sensuous description found in more Romantic poets
  10. both have odd first names: Rudyard. Wystan.

Other Kipling reviews

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