3 FEBRUARY 1956, Page 4


IT is fitting that the Oxford Chair of Poetry should be filled by election. Acclamation is the traditional method by which the true poet has been distinguished from the fake, and for a Professorship devoted to this art qualifications are required which the average reader is probably more capable of judging than the most learned scholar. It follows that candidates for this post have usually been distinguished by qualities other than the purely academic. Its present holder, Professor Day Lewis, is a well-known poet and critic, and two of the three candidates already nominated for the position are eminent in spheres out- side the world of the university. Mr. W. H. Auden is one of the best df the twentieth-century poets. Recent volumes of verse have shown no decline in his power. He is an excellent candi- date. Sir Harold Nicolson too is known for his many sensitive literary studies (including biographies of three poets : Verlaine. Swinburne and Tennyson). as well as books on history and diplomacy. The third candidate, Mr. G. Wilson Knight; is more purely academic. He has written a number of books of repute on the imagery of Shakespeare and Milton, but is less well known than his rivals.

The election then is likely to develop into a contest beween Sir Harold Nicolson and Mr. Auden, and it might seem that Oxford electors have before them a difficult choice—embarras de richesses. However, when two candidates are so eminently suited, both in piestige and ability, to fill a Chair of Poetry, there is one consideration that must surely be decisive. Mr. Auden is a practising poet of the highest talent. He has exercised an unparalleled influence on the course of English poetry during the last twenty-five years, and it would surely be just and gracious on the part of his native University to give him the opportunity to speak of the art whose range he has so notably extended. It will perhaps be objected to Mr. Auden's candi- dature that he has lived for a long time now in America and has become an American citizen— but what of this? There is no .doubt whose claim tg be Professor of Poetry, is the stronger.