Seeing Iris, part three: Jonathan Wooding has more on a profound Quakerly thinker

‘It may be that Murdoch couldn’t escape the version of Quakerism inherited from her head teacher.’

‘Is this why she never declared herself a Quaker?’ | Photo: Ida Kar/National Portrait Gallery

In ‘A Summer Night’, Wystan – WH – Auden, who was an English teacher at a Quaker school in the 1930s, appears to be sitting in a silent meeting. ‘Equal with colleagues in a ring | I sit’, he writes, and experiences an ‘opening light’ whose ‘dove-like pleading’ drives fear away, and provides a ‘strength’ which endures. He dedicates his poem to Geoffrey Hoyland, the head teacher at The Downs Malvern School. Auden enjoyed some of the happiest years of his life there; the poem is optimistic enough for Benjamin Britten to co-opt some of its verses for his post-war Spring Symphony.

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