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Central text of poetry in English
on 9 March 2004
This seems such a simple text - a poetic travelogue based on a visit by 1930s poets Auden and MacNeice to the beautiful but backward island.
But it is so much more than this. The journey northward is made against the backdrop of Europe preparing for war. The Spanish Civil War begins during their trip, and the Viking legacy of the island is in sharp contrast with the barbarity of the South.
This is also a journey inwards, with the poet's introspection being shown in a diversity of different forms. At the core of the poem is Auden's impish and deceptively light 'Letter to Lord Byron', juxtaposed with travelogue, letters, verse drama, and question and answer exchanges.
This book is a central text when looking at the development of poetry in English and its political role; it is also a great travel book which dignifies the genre.
Auden called the 30s a 'low dishonest decade', but this book shows how angst and uncertainty can be met by humour, self-knowledge and integrity. A great read and an under-appreciated classic.