The Paris Review

A Homework Assignment from W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden backstage at the 92nd street Y in 1966. Photo: Diane Dorr Dorynek

I don’t know the backstory on this one. All I have is the assignment below, forwarded to me by my editor:

What is he even talking about. Actually, I can explain that. The part I can’t explain is how Auden can possibly have thought anything good was gonna come out of this assignment.

He was a glutton for punishment, I’ve heard. But you’d have to have a screw loose to hand out the above as an assignment. It’s not that the students wouldn’t do it; they’d try. But then you’d have to read the results. Take a sec and imagine the anger.

I had a

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