It’s not every day that an Archbishop of Canterbury writes an appreciation of a dead rampant homo and his work. But then Rowan Williams – aka Beardie - is no ordinary Archbish.
He writes the foreword to today's Guardian’s booklet on WH Auden in its imaginative series on great poets of the 20th Century. It’s a thoughtful little piece. The dark and menacing Pennine imagery of Auden’s early poetry serves as a metaphor for ... “the sense of doubleness and loneliness ... that was bound up at this point in his life with Auden’s homosexuality,” Beardie writes. He alludes to Auden’s “deepest and longest-lasting sexual relationship” (he does not name Chester Kallman whom he modishly calls elsewhere Auden’s “partner”). One of the poems selected is Lullaby which includes the line about homophobic “fashionable madmen” and “their pedantic boring cry.”
All this is very fine. And yet I doubt that his Anglican Church would countenance the assumed tolerance of homosexuality, the academic detachment from the life that feeds the poetry, the empathy with human complexity. Beardie betrays not a scintilla of disapproval of Auden’s lifestyle, not even in convoluted code. And I only make this point because in 2006 Beardie said of the Church’s attitude to homosexual relationships: "I don't believe inclusion is a value in itself. Welcome is. We don't say 'Come in and we ask no questions'. I do believe conversion means conversion of habits, behaviours, ideas, emotions." In other words, no cock-cocking or cunt-cunting, matey.
However, Beardie – as a dual-minded Gemini – has grown used to saying one thing and then saying and doing another. I think his Guardian piece exhibits the true mind of Rowan Williams: liberal, inclusive, not bothered by trifles like homosexuality; enlightened. He’d make a great humanist. But faced by the trad beardies in his Church he pirouettes about citing the collective position rather than the personal.
I can’t think why Rowan Williams would want to be part of a Church of fashionable madmen, listening to their pedantic boring cry. Perhaps he just likes dressing up.