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