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Celebrating Auden's Timeless Message

Poet W.H. Auden was born in England 100 years ago today.

The man he chose to be his literary executor, Edward Mendelson, says Auden's goal was to have a conversation with his readers. He believed that the way to be universal was to be individual. Mendelson is the editor of a new collection of Auden's poems.

"Auden, I think, like any very great writer, is someone whom you don't have to translate into the present," says Mendelson. "You read him and he's addressing who you are at almost any age, or at any time, or in any period."

Two Auden poems have received particular attention in recent years: "Funeral Blues," when it appeared in the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral and "September 1, 1939," written as World War II began, resonated with Americans after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mendelson shares his memories of the large, imposing poet with a gentle manner, and explains why one of Auden's best-known works was one he grew to despise.

This piece was produced by Martha Woodroof of member station WMRA.

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