I got back from England last week. While I was there it surprised me to see on at least two occasions a cold mound of badger flesh, large as a black plastic rubbish sack, one dead paw raised as if to ask a question in class, lying at the side of a rural road. I don't remember that sight from the days when I grew up in the country.
"Family connexions are part of the poetry of history," Noel Annan asserted in "The Intellectual Aristocracy", one of the most famous essays ever written on British culture. Fortunately or unfortunately, it would be fair to embellish Annan's point by adding that sometimes "family connexions are part of the history of poetry." That, at least, is what this post seeks to demonstrate.
The ancestral line of Henry Straith Venn (1869-1908) was a weighty, chronicled one stocked almost entirely on the male side by distinguished, formidable, moralistic churchmen. Henry's great-uncle, John Venn, was the logician who introduced the 'Venn diagram', that pleasingly bulbous, promiscuous mathematical diagram.
Auden's 1939 string of elegies and farewellings – 'In Memory of W. B. Yeats', 'In Memory of Ernst Toller', 'September 1, 1939', and 'In Memory of Sigmund Freud' – contain some curiously discordant notes, as if there were some anarchic or nihilistic principle in them struggling against the ostensible protocol of solemnity.
'There is no element more conspicuously absent from contemporary poetry than nobility', Stevens wrote. Perhaps in a very literal way we should restore 'nobility' to the history of contemporary poetry, if for no other reason than because it seems foreign to the field?
Nicholas Jenkins writes about and teaches 20th-century culture and literature, especially poetry. After receiving his B.A. from Oxford, Jenkins came to the United States as a Harkness Fellow. He did postgraduate work at Columbia and was then employed as an editor and writer at ARTnews magazine in New York. He received a D.Phil. from Oxford and, after teaching in the Harvard English Department for two years, he joined the Stanford English Department in 1998. Jenkins is currently completing two projects: a critical edition of W.H. Auden's The Double Man (1941) and a book, under contract to Harvard University Press, called The Island: W.H. Auden and the Making of a Post-National Poetry. Jenkins has edited a Lincoln Kirstein Reader and co-edited and contributed to three volumes of Auden Studies. He is Series Editor of the Princeton University Press's "Facing Pages" translation series, and he regularly contributes essays and reviews to periodicals that include the London Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, New York Times Book Review, the New Republic, the New Yorker, and the Yale Review. A recepient of fellowships from the ACLS and from the Stanford Humanities Center, Nicholas Jenkins is Co-Chair of the W.H. Auden Society and Literary Executor of the poet, scholar and ballet impresario Lincoln Kirstein.