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A Book Report on W.H. Auden's "Oxford Book of Light Verse"

My name is Jamie Lee Hamann and I started sharing poetry articles back in 2013. Every year I share a poem a day in April.


W.H. Auden "Oxford Book of Light Verse"

"Saith the Poet of Nonsense

'Thoughts into my heard do come

thick as flies upon a plum."

Edward Lear

W.H. Auden, a poet and playwright, found fame in the 1930's with his first publication "Poems(1930)." A prolific writer, who wrote thousands of poems, plays, and essays, born into the literary traditions of the English Countryside. Auden led a long and eventful life . His poetry had the opportunity to be touched by the tragedy of war alongside the triumphs of love.

"All the poems written were written for love." W.H. Auden

"Poems(1930)" found success partly by the endorsement and publication efforts of T.S. Eliot. Eliot reacted to Auden's "genius" and introduced Auden's name into the Pantheon of "geniuses" writing in the 30's. Auden published his collection "The Oxford book of Light Verse" in 1938 to the surprise of his critics. The publication seemed to arrive from a secretive place at the peak of Auden's productive years and his most popular.

Readers who indulge themselves in reading introductions will find possibly one of the best introduction essays ever written. Auden begins his essay by saying:

"Major genius maybe a rare phenomenon, but no art is the creation solely of geniuses rising in sudden isolation like creatures from a level plain; least of all literature, whose medium is language-the medium of ordinary social intercourse."

An interesting Auden Interview

What is considered "Light Verse"

The "Oxford Book of Light Verse" is far from light with a text weighing more then one hundred kilograms. Lucky for us "Light Verse" is not judged by the weight of the text or how many inches thick, though approximately two.

Auden describes "Light Verse" in his essay introducing the "Oxford Book of Light Verse."

He states that "Light Verse" falls under three categories:

  1. Poetry made for performance
  2. Poetry meant to be read about everyday social life.
  3. Nursery Rhymes of the poetry of Edward Lear.
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Soon, after the first few pages, it becomes clear that this collection is not all bawdy street limerick and children's fairy tales.

"The Miller's Tale" and three other tales from Chaucer's "Canterbury Tales" begin the show along with many Anonymous Old English authors. Definitions of Light Verse, even entertaining verse, have changed since 1938 and today's reader may find Old English far from the expectations of light reading.

Examination of chapter content, which contains a healthy amount of Lear, points towards a thorough and thoughtful discussion of the history of "Light Verse."

Auden explains his reasoning in the introduction:

"For poetry which is at the same time light and adult can only be written in a society which is integrated and free."

A look at Edward Lear

Edward Lear deserves a mention when discussing the "Oxford Book of Light Verse." Auden included a fair amount of Lear's "Nonsense Alphabet," his limericks, and his later "serious" poetry.

Along with the inclusion of a large portion of Lear's work Auden mentioned Lear directly, along with Fairy Tales, as a definition to "Light Verse."

Edward Lear loved to watch the reactions of children as he read. Every once and awhile one child, usually the youngest, would show signs of being moved. This search is where Mr. Lear found his true love. Whatever the reaction of the child he paid close attention as he read each line. A conversation that is certainly addictive.

Mr. Lear dedicated his life to creating rhymes for children. His limerick is a breath of fresh air from the raunchy ones produced throughout history.

When Lear retired to write "serious" poetry, after years of entertaining children, he produced famous poems like "The Owl and the Pussycat"

"The owl and the pussycat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat,

They took some honey, and plenty of money

Wrapped up in a five-pound note."

Born in London in 1812, Lear spent his childhood under the care of his sister. Too sickly to voyage out of the house Lear spent his boyhood learning to draw and paint.

His talent in writing verse and amusing children allowed him the chance to work with the Earl of Derby in his younger days.

The many years working with the local children under the patronage of the Earl allowed him to retire and write some of the worlds most entertaining verse.


"Oxford Book of Light Verse." W.H. Auden. Oxford University Press. 1938.

"The Poetry of Edward Lear." Arcturus Publishing Limited. Arcturus Holding Limited. 1956.

"W.H. Auden Collected Poems." Edited by Edward Mendelson. Modern Library. Random House. 1976.

Oh My Goodness! There is nothing light about the cost of this hardback copy.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jamie Lee Hamann


Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on April 26, 2021:

John, math never was my strong suit but I figure there is only humor in gross exaggeration. Maybe not! Hehe. I was think about you when I wrote this hub and even when I found a copy at a used bookstore a few years ago. Jamie

Jamie Lee Hamann (author) from Reno NV on April 26, 2021:

Thank you Bill.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on April 26, 2021:

A very interesting article, Jamie. This “Oxford Book of Light Verse” would be sure to appeal to me as Edward Lear has inspired a lot of my writing. You say the text weighs more than 100 kilograms though, is that right? 1kg = 2.205lbs, so that is more than 220lbs.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 26, 2021:

I swear, every single time I check my HP feed, there is a new article or poem by you. Prolific is the only word that applies, buddy!

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