W. H. Auden and 'The "Barbaric" Poetry of the North': Unchaining one's Daimon

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Seamus Heaney's recent translation of Beowulf reminds us that Old English poetry can hold a strong attraction for modern poets. This essay examines Auden's debt to the earliest English poetry, beginning with a summary of his experience of the subject at Oxford. A detailed examination of Paid on Both Sides, Auden's first professionally published work, forms the bulk of the essay. Numerous allusions to specific Old English poems are identified, many for the first time, and more general rhetorical and metrical influences are analysed. These are related to the central theme of the work, tribal violence. It is argued that some of the imitations of Old English in Paid can be read as juvenile experimentation, but that several years later these experiments paid handsome dividends in The Age of Anxiety, which develops and refines many of the devices and concerns of Paid on Both Sides.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-185
Number of pages19
JournalReview of English Studies
Issue number210
Publication statusPublished - May 2002


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