Abstract

Before alighting on his vocation, the poet W. H. Auden grew up among doctors and went to Oxford University to study not literature but the natural sciences. This article pursues the ramifications of that background through the development of Auden’s career, focusing on his biographical and intellectual adjacency to the biologist Jakob von Uexküll. Several close readings illustrate the resonance between Uexküll’s theory of the Umwelt and an epistemological shift at the heart of Auden’s poetry, wherein the idea of the self is reconfigured in terms of the embodied experience of inhabiting a place. In this way, a new perspective takes form on the transdisciplinary scope of literary history, its broader cultural relevance, and the mutuality between the poetic and the scientific imaginations of our own day.

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