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W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden W. H. Auden[1†]

Wystan Hugh Auden, commonly known as W. H. Auden, was a British-American poet renowned for his remarkable stylistic and technical achievement[1†]. Born on February 21, 1907, in York, Yorkshire, England, he later moved to the United States, becoming a U.S. citizen[1†][2†]. His poetry is celebrated for its engagement with politics, morals, love, and religion, and its variety in tone, form, and content[1†]. Some of his best-known poems include “Funeral Blues”, “September 1, 1939”, and “The Shield of Achilles” among others[1†]. Auden’s work has had a profound influence on 20th-century literature[1†][3†].

Early Years and Education

Wystan Hugh Auden was born on February 21, 1907, in York, England[4†][2†]. He was the last of three sons born to George and Constance Auden[4†]. His father was the medical officer for the city of Birmingham, England, and a psychologist[4†]. His mother was a devoted Anglican[4†]. The combination of religious and scientific themes are buried throughout Auden’s work[4†]. The industrial area where he grew up shows up often in his adult poetry[4†]. Like many young boys in his city, he was interested in machines, mining, and metals and wanted to be a mining engineer[4†].

With both grandfathers being Anglican ministers, Auden once commented that if he had not become a poet he might have ended up as an Anglican bishop[4†]. Another influential childhood experience was his time served as a choirboy. He states in his autobiographical sketch, A Certain World, "it was there that I acquired a sensitivity to language which I could not have acquired in any other way."[4†]

He was educated at St. Edmund’s preparatory school and at Oxford University[4†][1†]. At Oxford fellow undergraduates Cecil Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender, with Auden, formed the group called the Oxford Group or the "Auden Generation."[4†] At school Auden was interested in science, but at Oxford he studied English[4†]. He disliked the Romantic poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, whom he was inclined to refer to as "Kelly and Sheets."[4†] This break with the English post-Romantic tradition was important for his contemporaries[4†].

Career Development and Achievements

W. H. Auden achieved early fame in the 1930s as a hero of the left during the Great Depression[2†][1†]. Most of his verse dramas of this period were written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood[2†]. In 1939, Auden settled in the United States, becoming a U.S. citizen[2†][1†].

Auden’s education followed the standard pattern for children of the middle and upper classes[2†]. He attended various English independent (or public) schools and studied English at Christ Church, Oxford[2†][1†]. After a few months in Berlin in 1928–29, he spent five years (1930–1935) teaching in British private preparatory schools[2†][1†].

Auden came to wide public attention in 1930 with his first book, Poems; it was followed in 1932 by The Orators[2†][1†]. Three plays written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood between 1935 and 1938 built his reputation as a left-wing political writer[2†][1†]. 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[2†][1†].

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[2†][1†]. 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[2†][1†].

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[2†][1†]. Throughout his career, he was both controversial and influential[2†][1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

W. H. Auden’s literary career was marked by a prolific output of works, many of which have become iconic in the field of literature. His first book, “Poems,” was published in 1930 with the help of T.S. Eliot[5†]. This marked the beginning of his journey as a published poet.

One of his most notable works is “Funeral Blues,” a poignant expression of love and loss[5†][1†]. Another significant work is “September 1, 1939,” a poem that reflects on political and social themes[5†][1†]. His long poem “The Age of Anxiety” won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948[5†][1†].

Here are some of his main works along with the year of first publication:

Auden’s works are noted for their stylistic and technical achievement, their engagement with politics, morals, love, and religion, and their variety in tone, form, and content[5†][1†]. His poetry has had a profound impact on the literary world and continues to be celebrated today[5†].

Analysis and Evaluation

W. H. Auden’s work is characterized by its profound depth and diversity. His poems often blend romance and realism, exploring themes of love, politics, and social issues[6†]. For instance, his poem “Lullaby” from the collection “Another Time” (1940) is a beautiful exploration of love’s bliss and limits[6†]. It presents love as a flawed, fragile, “Human” phenomenon, yet also as something that can bring a vision of transcendent “sympathy” and "hope"[6†].

Another significant poem, “The Unknown Citizen,” offers a satirical elegy of a man who lived an exemplary life as deemed by the government[6†][7†]. This poem implicitly critiques the standardization of modern life and the risks of losing individuality when focusing exclusively on societal expectations[6†][7†]. It paints a picture of a world ruled by conformity and state oppression, where a bureaucratic government dictates and spies on its citizens’ daily lives[6†][7†].

Auden’s poetry is not just a mirror to society but also a critique of it. His works challenge the reader to question societal norms and expectations, making his poetry relevant even today[6†][7†]. His ability to weave complex themes into his poetry with eloquence and depth is a testament to his literary genius[6†][7†].

Personal Life

Wystan Hugh Auden, known as W. H. Auden, was born to George and Constance Auden[4†]. His father was a medical officer for the city of Birmingham, England, and a psychologist[4†]. His mother was a devoted Anglican[4†]. The combination of religious and scientific themes are evident throughout Auden’s work[4†]. The industrial area where he grew up often appears in his adult poetry[4†]. Like many young boys in his city, he was interested in machines, mining, and metals and wanted to be a mining engineer[4†]. With both grandfathers being Anglican ministers, Auden once commented that if he had not become a poet he might have ended up as an Anglican bishop[4†].

Another influential childhood experience was his time served as a choirboy[4†]. He states in his autobiographical sketch, A Certain World, "it was there that I acquired a sensitivity to language which I could not have acquired in any other way."[4†] He was educated at St. Edmund’s preparatory school and at Oxford University[4†]. At Oxford fellow undergraduates Cecil Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender, with Auden, formed the group called the Oxford Group or the "Auden Generation."[4†]

In 1935, Auden married Erika Mann in a marriage of convenience[4†][1†]. This allowed Mann, a German citizen, to gain British citizenship and escape the Nazis[4†][1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

W. H. Auden’s legacy is as diverse and profound as his poetry[8†][2†]. His influence on 20th-century literature is undeniable[8†][2†]. His work, which engaged with politics, morals, love, and religion, continues to be studied and admired[8†][2†]. Auden’s early fame in the 1930s established him as a hero of the left during the Great Depression[8†][2†]. His poetry collection, which includes well-known poems such as “Funeral Blues,” “September 1, 1939,” and “The Shield of Achilles,” reflects his diverse interests[8†].

Auden’s understanding of Sigmund Freud’s legacy through his poem “In Memory of Sigmund Freud” is considered one of the best encapsulations of the legacy of one of the most important figures in the history of psychology[8†]. This demonstrates Auden’s ability to approach psychology and science more broadly, beyond the subject of his poem[8†].

Auden’s work continues to be celebrated for its stylistic and technical achievement[8†][2†]. His poetry is noted for its variety in tone, form, and content[8†][2†]. His influence on other literary intellectuals such as C. Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender is well documented[8†][2†].

In conclusion, W. H. Auden’s impact and legacy are far-reaching. His work continues to inspire and influence readers and writers alike[8†][2†]. His place in history as a significant literary figure is well established[8†][2†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - W. H. Auden [website] - link
  2. Britannica - W. H. Auden: British poet [website] - link
  3. Biography - W.H. Auden [website] - link
  4. Encyclopedia of World Biography - W. H. Auden Biography [website] - link
  5. Poetry Foundation - W. H. Auden [website] - link
  6. LitCharts - Lullaby Poem Summary and Analysis [website] - link
  7. LitCharts - The Unknown Citizen Poem Summary and Analysis [website] - link
  8. Scientific American Blog Network - Understanding Freud's Legacy Through the Eyes of W. H. Auden [website] - link
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