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Writing a posthumous tribute to WH Auden


Tea at WH Auden's: 'After work but before the drinking'
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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[Q] When he was living in New York though, you used to see him regularly.

Oh, yes, yes. Well, not regularly but... but often and I would... I would go to tea and teatime was very good because by four o’ clock he had finished the day’s work, but had not started the evening’s drinking. He was a very heavy drinker although he was at pains to say that he was a drunk but not an alcoholic. I said, 'What’s the difference?'  He said, 'An alcoholic has a personality change after a drink or two, a drunk can drink as much as he wants and he doesn’t have a personality change. I’m a drunk'. He certainly drank a great deal and one of the… and sometimes at a dinner, either at his own place or someone else’s, he would leave the meal at 9.30 taking every bottle off the table. But, however much he drank he was up at six and at work the next morning.  The friend who introduced us, who had been his secretary at one time, called Auden ‘the least lazy man he had ever met’. Work ethic…

[Q] Did you meet any interesting people at tea, at Auden’s?

No, it was usually myself but I... but I met others in... in the evenings. I think I met Charles Rosen around that time, who must be getting on now but is absolutely un... undiminished by age.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: New York, WH Auden

Duration: 1 minute, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012