Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, England, in 1907. He moved to Birmingham
during childhood and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. As a young
man he was influenced by the poetry of Thomas Hardy and Robert
Frost, as well as William Blake, Emily
Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Old English verse. At Oxford his precocity as a poet was immediately apparent, and he formed lifelong
friendships with two fellow writers, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood.
In 1928, his collection Poems was privately printed, but it wasn't until 1930, when another collection titled Poems (though its contents were different) was published, that Auden was established as the leading voice of a new generation.
Ever since, he has been admired for his unsurpassed technical
virtuosity and an ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form;
the incorporation in his work of popular culture, current events, and
vernacular speech; and also for the vast range of his intellect, which drew
easily from an extraordinary variety of literatures, art forms, social and
political theories, and scientific and technical information. He had a
remarkable wit, and often mimicked the writing styles of other poets such as
Dickinson, W. B. Yeats, and Henry
James. His poetry frequently recounts, literally or metaphorically, a journey
or quest, and his travels provided rich material for his verse.
He visited Germany, Iceland, and China, served in the Spanish Civil war, and
in 1939 moved to the United States, where he met his lover, Chester Kallman,
and became an American citizen. His own beliefs changed radically between his
youthful career in England, when he was an ardent advocate of socialism and
Freudian psychoanalysis, and his later phase in America, when his central
preoccupation became Christianity and the theology of modern Protestant
theologians. A prolific writer, Auden was also a noted playwright, librettist,
editor, and essayist. Generally considered the greatest English poet of the
twentieth century, his work has exerted a major influence on succeeding
generations of poets on both sides of the Atlantic.
W. H. Auden was a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1954 to 1973, and divided most of the second half of his life between residences in New
York City and Austria. He died in Vienna in 1973.