Search for Auden poems

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audenHELENSBURGH is the focal point of a search for missing verse from one of the greatest 20th-century poets.

The world's leading authority on W.H.Auden (left) has launched a hunt for missing early poems by the writer, written when, as a young schoolmaster in the early 1930s, he taught at Larchfield Academy prep school, also known as Larchfield School.

In 1931 he published a school magazine, The Larchfieldier. No copies of it have ever surfaced, but the American scholar Edward Mendelson, Auden's literary executor and editor, is convinced he would have included poems of his own among the boys' writings, as he later did at two other schools.

Professor Mendelson (below right) is appealing for help to solve a mystery that has frustrated him for two decades, by tracking down the missing editions, a few hundred copies of which he thinks might have been printed for pupils and parents.

He said: "My guess is that someone has one on a shelf somewhere, in a stack of their grandfather's old school papers. At some point it will turn up, or maybe it won't, but I keep hoping."

Most of the records of Larchfield were lost in the 1997 fire which badly damaged St Bride's, with which it had merged to form the current Lomond School, including pupil lists from Auden's time there.

Professor Mendelson was in Edinburgh recently at the invitation of the novelist Alexander McCall Smith, a fellow Auden fan, who said: "It would be marvellous if new Auden poems were found."prof-edward-mendelson-w

Auden, born in York in 1907, died aged 66. From Oxford University he travelled to Berlin and then returned to Britain, to teach for two and a half years at Larchfield.

While in Helensburgh he produced a book of poems, The Orators, which made his reputation. It paved the way for his place alongside W.B.Yeats and T.S.Eliot as one of the greatest modern poets.

For Professor Mendelson, the trail begins with a report in the now defunct Helensburgh and Gareloch Times about a new school magazine published by Larchfield pupils.

"It was obviously Auden — he was always founding school magazines," he says. "He always wrote a couple of his own comic poems in it, mixed with the students work."

Auden moved on to The Downs School in Herefordshire in 1932, and later to an American school, St Mark's, in 1939. Both schools' magazines featured comic poems by Auden, later tracked down by scholars in the 1970s.

larchfield_schoolBut in Helensburgh the trail has gone cold. The Professor even advertised locally for copies, with no result.

One piece of verse Auden wrote at Larchfield (below left) has turned up — a few lines of doggerel written for schoolboy Norman Wright on his jotter.

It was auctioned at Christie's in 1988, but a play Auden was known to have written for his pupils in 1932, Sherlock Holmes Chez Duhamel, has disappeared.

Lomond's headmaster, Angus Macdonald, said: "There have been people getting in touch now and then with an interest in Auden, but I'm afraid I have had to disappoint them. It is frustrating. The Larchfield main building where Auden taught was converted into flats."

Professor Mendelson added: "I can't prove this magazine had something in it, but it's very, very likely. It would be unknown work by a major writer.

"It would be worth hundreds of pounds, but I hope the owner might say: 'The National Library of Scotland should have this'. Or I would buy it myself and present it to the National Library of Scotland."

  • This article is based on an article which appeared in the Scotsman on November 13 2008, and material from the original article is published by kind permission of the editor of the Scotsman website, former Helensburgh Advertiser editor Alan Greenwood. The original article can be read on