Anglo-Saxon Anxieties: Auden and ‘the Barbaric Poetry of the North’
This chapter presents an account of Auden's experiences of Old English at Oxford, then demonstrates that his early style owes many of its distinctive features to Old English poetry, and that allusions to Old English are more common than has been previously realized. Auden associates Old English with various kinds of anxiety, and in its poetry he finds analogues for the violence of his own century. He redeploys the idiom of Old English when writing of conflict, whether imaginary as in ‘Paid on Both Sides’, or historical as in The Age of Anxiety. Auden also associates Old English with sexual anxiety; an informed reading of ‘The Wanderer’ as a coming-out narrative is contingent on understanding several Old English allusions. Finally, it is argued that Auden's move from an intimate poetic voice to a more public form of address in The Orators, is achieved partly through his development of an Anglo-Saxonist rhetoric.
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