Advent Calendar 14th December 2011: Mentoring W. H. Auden

In 1923 Michael Davidson, then 26, was introduced to Wystan Auden, then 16, or W. H. Auden as he would be called when he became famous. They developed “a poetical relationship” that was mainly maintained by letters; Davidson can pride himself on having discovered Auden, in a literary sense. Not only did he mentor and encourage him during two years, but he was also the first one to publish the young poet. Here’s from page 127 (chapter eight) in The World, the Flesh and Myself:

Auden, as I remember him then, was tall and gangling, with fair hair limp across a pale forehead and clumsy limbs apt to go adrift; and an odd, cogitative face that was frighteningly unboyish. He seemed too engrossed in thought to be boyish; it was the face of a mind far older than its age and already had that look of puritan sternness which signifies contempt for all intellectual time-wasting.

He was very like he is today – already Stravinsky’s ‘big blond intellectual bloodhound’ – but fairer and less rugged. His face wasn’t, of course, yet rutted with those singular corrugations which seem like the seismic result of terrific intellectual commotion; but the tenderness of its boyhood was oddly combined with an extra-ordinary grown-up austerity.

I was bewitched at the first meeting; not by a physical attrativeness, which I didn’t find (beyond the general one of adolescence), but by the blinding discovery, as in a revelation, that here was wonderfully joined that divine freak called genius with the magical age of sixteen.

The maturity of even his smallest remarks, a kind of inspired wisdom which, in his company, one couldn’t help being aware of, was alarming; and I knew instantly that, though ten years older, I was shamefully his inferior in intellect and learning. But he went to my romantic head like one’s second Pernod; I saw that I had found my boy Keats or Chatterton, on whom I would lavish all I could muster of literary maternalism. I was in love; but I think I deliberately chose to be in love.

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