W. H. Auden

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Person.png W. H. Auden  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(poet, playwright)
W H Auden.jpg
Born21 February 1907
Died29 September 1973 (Age 66)
Alma materChrist Church (Oxford)

Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973) was an English poet, playwright and essayist, whose work – from his early strictly metered verse, plays, and libretti to his later dense poems and penetrating essays – represents one of the major achievements of twentieth-century literature.

In his foreword to Dag Hammarskjöld's book Markings, W H Auden quotes Hammarskjöld as stating "In our age, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action."[1]

Background

W H Auden was born in York and grew up in and near Birmingham in a professional middle-class family. He attended English independent schools and studied English at Christ Church, Oxford. After a few months in Berlin in 1928–29, he spent five years (1930–35) teaching in British public schools, then travelled to Iceland and China in order to write books about his journeys.

In 1939 he moved to the United States and became an American citizen in 1946, retaining his British citizenship. He taught from 1941 to 1945 in American universities, followed by occasional visiting professorships in the 1950s. From 1947 to 1957 he wintered in New York and summered in Ischia; from 1958 until the end of his life he wintered in New York (in Oxford in 1972–73) and summered in Kirchstetten, Lower Austria.[2]

Poet

W H Auden's poetry was noted for its stylistic and technical achievement, its engagement with politics, morals, love, and religion, and its variety in tone, form and content. Some of his best known poems are about love, such as "Funeral Blues"; on political and social themes, such as "September 1, 1939" and "The Shield of Achilles"; on cultural and psychological themes, such as "The Age of Anxiety"; and on religious themes such as "For the Time Being" and "Horae Canonicae".[3]

He came to wide public attention with his first book Poems at the age of twenty-three in 1930; it was followed in 1932 by The Orators. Three plays written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood between 1935 and 1938 built his reputation as a left-wing political writer. Auden moved to the United States partly to escape this reputation, and his work in the 1940s, including the long poems "For the Time Being" and "The Sea and the Mirror", focused on religious themes. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 1947 long poem "The Age of Anxiety", the title of which became a popular phrase describing the modern era. From 1956 to 1961 he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford; his lectures were popular with students and faculty, and served as the basis for his 1962 prose collection "The Dyer's Hand".

Auden and Isherwood maintained a lasting but intermittent sexual friendship from around 1927 to 1939, while both had briefer but more intense relations with other men. In 1939, Auden fell in love with Chester Kallman and regarded their relationship as a marriage, but this ended in 1941 when Kallman refused to accept the faithful relations that Auden demanded. However, the two maintained their friendship, and from 1947 until Auden's death they lived in the same house or apartment in a non-sexual relationship, often collaborating on opera libretti such as that of The Rake's Progress, to music by Igor Stravinsky.

Essayist

Michael Buergermeister's film: "Wystan, The Life, Love and Death of a Poet"

Auden was a prolific writer of prose essays and reviews on literary, political, psychological, and religious subjects, and he worked at various times on documentary films, poetic plays, and other forms of performance. Throughout his career he was both controversial and influential, and critical views on his work ranged from sharply dismissive – treating him as a lesser figure than W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot – to strongly affirmative, as in Joseph Brodsky's statement that he had "the greatest mind of the twentieth century". After his death, his poems became known to a much wider public than during his lifetime through films, broadcasts, and popular media.

Biography

Michael Buergermeister's documentary film about W H Auden "Wystan: The Life, Love and Death of a Poet" was premiered on 22 November 2013 at the Blue Boar Theatre, Christ Church, Oxford.[4]

Published on 14 February 2016, Buergermeister's book "W. H. Auden, The Life and Love of a Poet" is a series of interviews with friends and family and provides a unique, fascinating and invaluable insight into the private world of W H Auden. It is of interest both to scholars and general readers and deals with themes as varied as: sex, love, religion, ideas, poetry, craft and art. The work is essentially a prose poem. The members of the "chamber orchestra", the voices in the book: Amerigo Franchetti, Lord Gowrie, Rita & Anita Auden, Matthew Spender and Thekla Clark, are perspicacious, wise, and brilliant. They not only provide one with stimulating and rich food for thought, they are also a pleasure to listen to in their own right.[5]


References

  1. W H Auden Foreword to Dag Hammarskjöld's Markings Leif Sjoberg and W H Auden (trans) Faber and Faber London 1964 p 23.
  2. "ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA"
  3. W H Auden by Edward Mendelson, 2002 ISBN 978-0-691-08935-5
  4. "The premiere of 'Wystan, The Life, Love and Death of a Poet'"
  5. "W. H. Auden, The Life and Love of a Poet"
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