Friday, August 24, 2018

A dramatic gap year

From What W.H. Auden Can Do For You by Alexander McCall Smith.
In 1928 he went to Berlin, where he stayed until the spring of the following year. This was a very important experience for him in terms of political education and personal discovery—the equivalent, perhaps, of a dramatic gap year today. Christopher Isherwood, his close friend, recorded that period very strikingly in his Goodbye to Berlin, a book that was so successfully and atmospherically translated to stage and film. Later he went to Spain, another focal point of the battle between European left and right, intending to drive an ambulance in the Spanish Civil War. (Auden was not a good driver at all, and the fact that he did not actually drive an ambulance was probably a good thing for those whom he might have conveyed.) One of his great poems, subsequently disowned, was “Spain,” in which he explores—meretriciously, he later said—the significance of Spain to his generation. There was a visit to China with Isherwood to record the implications of the Japanese invasion, and a journey to Iceland with the Northern Irish poet Louis MacNeice. Several volumes of poetry were published—to considerable critical acclaim. As a poet, Auden was feted. His was a new and exciting voice that seemed to capture the hopes—and anxieties—of the time.
Weimar Germany, Civil War Spain, Chiang Kai-shek China - the world is peacefully humdrum compared to not so long ago.

Goodbye to Berlin was the basis for the play and movie, Cabaret.

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