poem index

About this poet

Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, England, on February 21, 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 served as 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 on September 29, 1973.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Collected Poems (Random House, 1976)
Thank You, Fog: Last Poems (Random House, 1974)
Epistle to a Godson (Faber and Faber, 1972)
Academic Graffiti (Faber and Faber, 1971)
City Without Walls and Other Poems (Random House, 1969)
Collected Longer Poems (Random House, 1968)
Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 (Faber and Faber, 1966)
About the House (Random House, 1965)
Homage to Clio (Faber and Faber, 1960)
Selected Poetry (1956)
The Old Man's Road (Voyages Press,1956)
The Shield of Achilles (Random House, 1955)
Nones (Random House, 1951)
Collected Shorter Poems 1930-1944 (Faber and Faber, 1950)
The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (Random House, 1947)
The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (Random House, 1945)
For the Time Being (Random House, 1944)
The Sea and the Mirror (1944)
The Double Man (Random House, 1941)
The Quest (1941)
Another Time (Random House,1940)
Selected Poems (Faber and Faber, 1938)
Spain (Faber and Faber, 1937)
Look, Stranger! (Faber and Faber, 1936)
The Orators (Faber and Faber, 1932)
Poems (1930)
Poems (privately printed, 1928)

Prose

Forewords and Afterwords (Random House, 1973)
Selected Essays (Faber and Faber, 1964)
The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (Random House, 1962)
The Enchaféd Flood (Random House, 1950)
Journey to a War (Faber and Faber, 1939)
Letters from Iceland (Random House, 1937)

Anthology

Selected Poems by Gunnar Ekelöf (1972)

Drama

On the Frontier (1938)
The Ascent of F.6 (Faber and Faber, 1936)
The Dog Beneath the Skin: or, Where is Francis? (Faber and Faber, 1935)
The Dance of Death (Faber and Faber, 1933)
Paid On Both Sides (1928)
 

September 1, 1939

W. H. Auden, 1907 - 1973
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden was admired for his unsurpassed technical virtuosity and ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form; his incorporation of popular culture, current events, and vernacular speech in his work; 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.

by this poet

poem

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
   saint,
For in everything
poem

 

Click the icon above to listen to this audio poem.

poem
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.