THE poetry of WH Auden has occasionally featured in Alexander McCall Smith’s fiction – not least in 44 Scotland Street, which starts again in The Scotsman on Monday – but this year, the author is going to write a whole book about it.
Provisionally titled What WH Auden Can Do For You, it will be published by Princeton University Press in the autumn.
In it, McCall Smith will write about his discovery of Auden and examine how his poetry has influenced his own life – and could also influence others.
McCall Smith started reading Auden in 1973 while working as a lecturer in Belfast. The more he read, the more he realised that no other writer spoke to him as clearly or meant as much to him.
Many might only know Auden from a few of his poems – such as Stop All the Clocks, from the 1994 film Four Weddings and A Funeral – but McCall Smith says his entire work repays study. “With Auden, you can find both poems that offer solace and ones that offer intellectual stimulation,” he said. “There are plenty of poets who tell us about their particular experience of love … but few poets transcend the personal when talking about it.
“Auden digs far deeper than that. He transcends the specific experience to get to the heart of what we are.”
McCall Smith’s interest has been deepened by his friendship with Professor Edward Mendelson, Auden’s New York-based literary executor. He has a walk-on role in one of McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie novels.