Great poets hardly appear out of nowhere, but the map of Somewhere is rarely geographical: a cultural spasm, a conniving gang of influences, some peculiar strands of dna, or just a stagger of Freudian mishaps might be more at fault than a postal address or a clutch of bank statements. Born in York in 1907, W. H. Auden was the youngest son of a vicar’s daughter and a doctor who became Professor of Public Health at the University of Birmingham. The boy did public school (as the British call private school) at Gresham’s, followed by Oxford. There, his friend Stephen Spender published the poet’s first book on a hand press for printing pharmacists’ labels. Auden was twenty-one.
These two handsome volumes of Auden’s collected poems bring nearly to an end the sumptuous edition of the poet’s