A professor is one who talks in someone else’s sleep.

W.H. Auden The Life of a Poet by Charles Osborne, London: Michael O’Mara Books Limited, 1995, p. 339. Amazon.

I was able to track down the original source for this quote with the kind assistance of Alan Jacobs, editors of The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (Princeton University Press, 2011; Amazon).
Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) was an Anglo-American poet. From the BBC website:

He continued to publish poetry including ‘The Age of Anxiety’ (1947) for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. He collaborated with Kallman on the libretto for Stravinsky’s opera ‘The Rake’s Progress’ (1951). From 1956 to 1961 he was professor of poetry at Oxford University.

Below is a selection I made from Auden’s obiter dicta. What are those exactly? They are a collection of passing remarks made by Auden and noted by his friend and biographer Charles Osborne (obiter dicta is Latin for “said in passing”). They are not part of any poem or book written by Auden and remain undated. There are four pages of such remarks. They appear at the very end of Osborn’s book, on chapter 13 (PDF).

  • I always have two things in my head – I always have a theme and the form. The form looks for the theme, the theme looks for the form, and when they come together you’re able to write. (336)

  • The problem with the behaviouralists is that they always manage to exclude themselves from their theories. If all our acts are conditioned behaviour, surely our theories are, too. (337)

  • The older one gets, the more one values the age of friendship, as if it were a vintage. (337)

  • My face looks like a wedding-cake left out in the rain. (338)

  • Thank God for books as an alternative to conversation. (338)

  • I don’t go along with all this talk of a generation gap. We’re all contemporaries, anyone walking this earth at this moment. There’s a certain difference in memories, that’s all. (338)

  • I admire the young when they’re anti-money, but what they mustn’t do is take money from papa and then criticize his way of life. (339)


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