'That eye-on-the-object look': Auden quoted by Labour leader at conference

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We’ve had US president Joe Biden quoting Seamus Heaney, on more than one occasion – and last week the labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was citing WH Auden in his leader’s speech to the Labour party conference.

In his speech Starmer said: “I am not from a privileged background. My dad was a tool maker in a factory. He gave me a deep respect for the dignity of work. There are some lines from Auden that capture the beauty of skilled work.

“ ‘You need not see what someone is doing to know if it is his vocation, you have only to watch his eyes. How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look’.

“I saw that eye-on-the-object look in my dad. The pride that good work brings. It puts food on the table and it provides a sense of dignity.

“So, when I hear that this country is creating so many low-paid jobs and when I tell you that good work and fair growth will be the priority for a Labour government, I haven’t learnt this in some political seminar.

“I learnt it round the kitchen table. I learnt it at home, from my dad. How pride derives from work.”

The lines quoted by Keir Starmer come from the Auden poem ‘Sext’, from ‘Horae Canonicae’ a series of poems that Auden written between 1949 and 1955. The title is a reference to the canonical hours of the Christian Church, as are the titles of the seven poems constituting the series. Each refers to a fixed time of the day for prayer.

 

 

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Comments

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Stephen Gospage

Sat 2nd Oct 2021 17:34

Good to hear the Labour leader quoting Auden. Unlike the next glib sound-bite from BJ, it feels as though he means it.

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Tommy Carroll

Fri 1st Oct 2021 10:37

Tweedledum and... You know the rest.

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