W. H. Auden (February 21, 1907 - September 29, 1973)
Born: 21st February, 1907
Died: 29th September, 1973
Nationality: English
Profession/Occupation: Poet
Region: York, England, Vienna, Austria
Literary movement: Modernism
Notable works: "Musee des Beaux Arts", "The Age of Anxiety", "Homage to Clio", "September 1, 1939", "The Ascent of F6", "Letters from Iceland", "The Double Man", "Paid on Both Sides", "For the Time Being", "On This Island"
Genres: Poetry
Types of literature: Poems

W. H. Auden Facts

Biography

W. H. Auden, in full Wystan Hugh Auden, (born February 21, 1907, York, Yorkshire, England—died September 29, 1973, Vienna, Austria), English-born poet and man of letters who achieved early fame in the 1930s as a hero of the left during the Great Depression. Most of his verse dramas of this period were written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood. In 1939 Auden settled in the United States, becoming a U.S. citizen.

Life

In 1908 Auden’s family moved to Birmingham, where his father became medical officer and professor in the university. Since the father was a distinguished physician of broad scientific interests and the mother had been a nurse, the atmosphere of the home was more scientific than literary. It was also devoutly Anglo-Catholic, and Auden’s first religious memories were of “exciting magical rites.” The family name, spelled Audun, appears in the Icelandic sagas, and Auden inherited from his father a fascination with Iceland.

His education followed the standard pattern for children of the middle and upper classes. At 8 he was sent away to St. Edmund’s preparatory school, in Surrey, and at 13 to a public (private) school, Gresham’s, at Holt, in Norfolk. Auden intended to be a mining engineer and was interested primarily in science; he specialized in biology. By 1922 he had discovered his vocation as a poet, and two years later his first poem was published in Public School Verse. In 1925 he entered the University of Oxford (Christ Church), where he established a formidable reputation as poet and sage, having a strong influence on such other literary intellectuals as C. Day Lewis (named poet laureate in 1968), Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender, who printed by hand the first collection of Auden’s poems in 1928. Though their names were often linked with his as poets of the so-called Auden generation, the notion of an “Auden Group” dedicated to revolutionary politics was largely a journalistic invention. Upon graduating from Oxford in 1928, Auden, offered a year abroad by his parents, chose Berlin rather than the Paris by which the previous literary generation had been fascinated. He fell in love with the German language and was influenced by its poetry, cabaret songs, and plays, especially those by Bertolt Brecht. He returned to become a schoolmaster in Scotland and England for the next five years.

In his Collected Shorter Poems Auden divides his career into four periods. The first extends from 1927, when he was still an undergraduate, through The Orators of 1932. The “charade” Paid on Both Sides, which along with Poems established Auden’s reputation in 1930, best reveals the imperfectly fused but fascinating amalgam of material from the Icelandic sagas, Old English poetry, public-school stories, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and other psychologists, and schoolboy humour that enters into all these works. The poems are uneven and often obscure, pulled in contrary directions by the subjective impulse to fantasy, the mythic and unconscious, and the objective impulse to a diagnosis of the ills of society and the psychological and moral defects of the individuals who constitute it. Though the social and political implications of the poetry attracted most attention, the psychological aspect is primary. The notion of poetry as a kind of therapy, performing a function somehow analogous to the psychoanalytical, remains fundamental in Auden.

The second period, 1933–38, is that in which Auden was the hero of the left. Continuing the analysis of the evils of capitalist society, he also warned of the rise of totalitarianism. In On This Island (1937; in Britain, Look, Stranger!, 1936) his verse became more open in texture and accessible to a larger public. For the Group Theatre, a society that put on experimental and noncommercial plays in London, he wrote first The Dance of Death (a musical propaganda play) and then three plays in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood, Auden’s friend since preparatory school: The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935), The Ascent of F 6 (1936), and On the Frontier (1938). Auden also wrote commentaries for documentary films, including a classic of that genre, Night Mail (1936); numerous essays and book reviews; and reportage, most notably on a trip to Iceland with MacNeice, described in Letters from Iceland (1937), and a trip to China with Isherwood that was the basis of Journey to a War (1939). Auden visited Spain briefly in 1937, his poem Spain (1937) being the only immediate result; but the visit, according to his later recollections, marked the beginning both of his disillusion with the left and of his return to Christianity. In 1936 he married Erika Mann, the daughter of the German novelist Thomas Mann, in order to provide her with a British passport. When he and Isherwood went to China, they crossed the United States both ways, and on the return journey they both decided to settle there. In January 1939, both did so.

In the third period, 1939–46, Auden became an American citizen and underwent decisive changes in his religious and intellectual perspective. Another Time (1940) contains some of his best songs and topical verse, and The Double Man (containing “New Year Letter,” which provided the title of the British edition; 1941) embodies his position on the verge of commitment to Christianity. The beliefs and attitudes that are basic to all of Auden’s work after 1940 are defined in three long poems: religious in the Christmas oratorio For the Time Being (1944); aesthetic in the same volume’s Sea and the Mirror (a quasi-dramatic “commentary” on William Shakespeare’s The Tempest); and social-psychological in The Age of Anxiety (1947), the “baroque eclogue” that won Auden the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. Auden wrote no long poems after that.

The fourth period began in 1948, when Auden established the pattern of leaving New York City each year to spend the months from April to October in Europe. From 1948 to 1957 his summer residence was the Italian island of Ischia; in the latter year he bought a farmhouse in Kirchstetten, Austria, where he then spent his summers. In The Shield of Achilles (1955), Homage to Clio (1960), About the House (1965), and City Without Walls (1969) are sequences of poems arranged according to an external pattern (canonical hours, types of landscape, rooms of a house). With Chester Kallman, an American poet and close friend who lived with him for more than 20 years, he rehabilitated the art of the opera libretto. Their best-known collaborations are The Rake’s Progress (1951), for Igor Stravinsky; Elegy for Young Lovers (1961) and The Bassarids (1966), for Hans Werner Henze; and Love’s Labour’s Lost for Nicolas Nabokov. They also edited An Elizabethan Song Book (1956). In 1962 Auden published a volume of criticism, The Dyer’s Hand, and in 1970 a commonplace book, A Certain World. He spent much time on editing and translating, notably The Collected Poems of St. John Perse (1972). In 1972 Auden transferred his winter residence from New York City to Oxford, where he was an honorary fellow at Christ Church College. Of the numerous honours conferred on Auden in this last period, the Bollingen Prize (1953), the National Book Award (1956), and the professorship of poetry at Oxford (1956–61) may be mentioned.

Legacy

In the early 1930s W.H. Auden was acclaimed prematurely by some as the foremost poet then writing in English, on the disputable ground that his poetry was more relevant to contemporary social and political realities than that of T.S. Eliot and William Butler Yeats, who previously had shared the summit. By the time of Eliot’s death in 1965, however, a convincing case could be made for the assertion that Auden was indeed Eliot’s successor, as Eliot had inherited sole claim to supremacy when Yeats died in 1939.

Auden was, as a poet, far more copious and varied than Eliot and far more uneven. He tried to interpret the times, to diagnose the ills of society and deal with intellectual and moral problems of public concern. But the need to express the inner world of fantasy and dream was equally apparent, and, hence, the poetry is sometimes bewildering. If the poems, taken individually, are often obscure—especially the earlier ones—they create, when taken together, a meaningful poetic cosmos with symbolic landscapes and mythical characters and situations. In his later years Auden ordered the world of his poetry and made it easier of access; he collected his poems, revised them, and presented them chronologically in two volumes: Collected Shorter Poems 1927–57 (1967) and Collected Longer Poems (1969).

Top 74 W. H. Auden quotes

Of all possible subjects, travel is the most difficult for an artist, as it is the easiest for a journalist.
Artist
Difficult
Easiest
Journalist
Most
Possible
Subjects
Travel
When I find myself in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a room full of dukes.
Company
Feel
Find
Full
I feel
I feel like
Like
Mistake
Myself
Room
Scientists
Who
What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.
Art
Consumed
Dish
Entertainment
Food
Forgotten
Intended
Like
Mass
Mass media
Media
New
Offers
Popular
Choice of attention - to pay attention to this and ignore that - is to the inner life what choice of action is to the outer. In both cases, a man is responsible for his choice and must accept the consequences, whatever they may be.
Accept
Action
Attention
Both
Cases
Choice
Consequences
His
Ignore
Inner
Inner life
Life
Man
May
Now is the age of anxiety.
Age
Anxiety
Now
For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?
Bear
Feel
Forgotten
Himself
Who
No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.
Feeling
Good
Opera
People
Plot
Sensible
Sing
A professor is someone who talks in someone else's sleep.
Else
Professor
Sleep
Someone
Talks
Who
Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods.
Almost
Almost all
Barter
Begin
Both
Both parties
Continue
Exploitation
Forms
Goods
Mental
Most
Mutual
Our
Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.
Admire
Among
Common
Common denominator
Denominator
Find
I can
I love
Laugh
Like
Love
Make
Make me laugh
Me
Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.
Books
Forgotten
None
Remembered
Some
You owe it to all of us all get on with what you're good at.
Get
Good
Owe
Us
You
Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.
About
Aim
Always
Authenticity
Bother
Confuse
Never
Originality
Ought
Should
Some
Which
Writers
A tremendous number of people in America work very hard at something that bores them. Even a rich man thinks he has to go down to the office everyday. Not because he likes it but because he can't think of anything else to do.
America
Anything
Anything else
Because
Bores
Down
Else
Even
Every Day
Go
Hard
He
Likes
Man
Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they must do is the same as what they most want to do.
Because
Geniuses
Luckiest
Mortals
Most
Must
Same
Want
A verbal art like poetry is reflective; it stops to think. Music is immediate, it goes on to become.
Art
Become
Goes
Immediate
Like
Music
Poetry
Reflective
Stops
Think
Verbal
Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.
Because
Cannot
Cardinal
Driven
Impatience
Only
Out
Paradise
Perhaps
Return
Sin
We cannot
Were
In relation to a writer, most readers believe in the Double Standard: they may be unfaithful to him as often as they like, but he must never, never be unfaithful to them.
Believe
Double
He
Him
Like
May
Most
Must
Never
Often
Readers
Relation
Standard
Them
The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition.
Bored
Craves
Ear
Eye
Familiar
Hand
Impatient
Lazy
Novel
Other
Repetition
Shocked
Tends
Unexpected
Music is the best means we have of digesting time.
Best
Means
Music
Time
To save your world you asked this man to die; would this man, could he see you now, ask why?
Ask
Asked
Could
Die
He
Man
Now
Save
See
Why
World
Would
You
Your
No hero is mortal till he dies.
Dies
He
Hero
Mortal
Till
Music can be made anywhere, is invisible and does not smell.
Anywhere
Does
Invisible
Made
Music
Smell
We all have these places where shy humiliations gambol on sunny afternoons.
Afternoon
Places
Shy
Sunny
Where
Murder is commoner among cooks than among members of any other profession.
Among
Any
Cooks
Members
Other
Profession
Than
It's a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.
About
Art
Culture
Earn
Fact
He
His
Money
More
Much
Our
Poet
Practicing
Sad
In a world of prayer, we are all equal in the sense that each of us is a unique person, with a unique perspective on the world, a member of a class of one.
Class
Each
Equal
Member
Person
Perspective
Prayer
Sense
Unique
Us
World
If time were the wicked sheriff in a horse opera, I'd pay for riding lessons and take his gun away.
Away
Gun
His
Horse
Lessons
Opera
Pay
Riding
Sheriff
Take
Time
Were
Wicked
Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.
Death
Distant
Picnic
Sound
Thunder
Before people complain of the obscurity of modern poetry, they should first examine their consciences and ask themselves with how many people and on how many occasions they have genuinely and profoundly shared some experience with another.
Another
Ask
Before
Complain
Examine
Experience
First
Genuinely
How
How many people
Many
Modern
Modern poetry
Obscurity
Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.
Art
Bread
Breaking
Chief
Dead
Means
Our
A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.
Anything
Anything else
Before
Else
Language
Love
Passionately
Person
Poet
Who
A poet is a professional maker of verbal objects.
Maker
Objects
Poet
Professional
Verbal
One cannot walk through an assembly factory and not feel that one is in Hell.
Assembly
Cannot
Factory
Feel
Hell
Through
Walk
The countenances of children, like those of animals, are masks, not faces, for they have not yet developed a significant profile of their own.
Animals
Children
Developed
Faces
Like
Masks
Own
Profile
Significant
Those
Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.
Always
Bed
Eats
Evil
Human
Our
Own
Shares
Table
The class distinctions proper to a democratic society are not those of rank or money, still less, as is apt to happen when these are abandoned, of race, but of age.
Abandoned
Age
Apt
Class
Democratic
Democratic society
Distinctions
Happen
Less
Money
Proper
Race
Rank
Society
God bless the USA, so large, so friendly, and so rich.
Bless
Friendly
God
God bless
Large
Rich
Usa
The words of a dead man are modified in the guts of the living.
Dead
Guts
Living
Man
Modified
Words
No human being is innocent, but there is a class of innocent human actions called Games.
Actions
Being
Class
Games
Human
Human actions
Human being
Innocent
My face looks like a wedding-cake left out in the rain.
Face
Left
Like
Looks
Out
Rain
May it not be that, just as we have to have faith in Him, God has to have faith in us and, considering the history of the human race so far, may it not be that 'faith' is even more difficult for Him than it is for us?
Considering
Difficult
Even
Faith
Far
God
Him
History
Human
Human race
Just
May
More
Race
Like everything which is not the involuntary result of fleeting emotion but the creation of time and will, any marriage, happy or unhappy, is infinitely more interesting than any romance, however passionate.
Any
Creation
Emotion
Everything
Fleeting
Happy
However
Infinitely
Interesting
Involuntary
Like
Marriage
More
Passionate
The center that I cannot find is known to my unconscious mind.
Cannot
Center
Find
Known
Mind
Unconscious
Unconscious mind
It's frightening how easy it is to commit murder in America. Just a drink too much. I can see myself doing it. In England, one feels all the social restraints holding one back. But here, anything can happen.
America
Anything
Back
Commit
Doing
Drink
Easy
England
Feels
Frightening
Happen
Here
Holding
How
Murder is unique in that it abolishes the party it injures, so that society has to take the place of the victim and on his behalf demand atonement or grant forgiveness; it is the one crime in which society has a direct interest.
Atonement
Behalf
Crime
Demand
Direct
Forgiveness
Grant
His
Interest
Party
Place
Society
Take
Unique
When I am in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes.
Am
Company
Drawing
Feel
Full
I am
I feel
I feel like
Like
Mistake
Room
Scientists
Who
You know there are no secrets in America. It's quite different in England, where people think of a secret as a shared relation between two people.
America
Between
Different
England
Know
People
Quite
Relation
Secret
Secrets
Shared
Think
Two
Two people
All sins tend to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is damnation.
Addiction
Addictive
Point
Sins
Tend
Terminal
Learn from your dreams what you lack.
Dreams
Lack
Learn
You
Your
Your dreams

W. H. Auden essays

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, (born August 28, 1749, Frankfurt am Main [Germany]--died March 22,..
John Milton
John Milton
John Milton, (born December 9, 1608, London, England--died November 8?, 1674, London?), English..
Mark Twain
Mark Twain
Mark Twain, pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, (born November 30, 1835, Florida, Missouri,..