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Wystan Hugh (W H) Auden Biography

The biography of Wystan Hugh (W H) Auden. This page has biographical information on Wystan Hugh (W H) Auden, one of the best poets of all time. This PoetrySoup page also provides access to the poet's poems, best poetry, quotes, and video biographies...if available.

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Wystan Hugh Auden (/ ' w s t n ' h ju ' d n / ; 21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973), who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet, born in England, later an American citizen, regarded by many critics as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. His work is noted for its stylistic and technical achievements, its engagement with moral and political issues, and its variety of tone, form and content. The central themes of his poetry are love, politics and citizenship, religion and morals, and the relationship between unique human beings and the anonymous, impersonal world of nature.

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Wystan Hugh Auden, known more commonly as W. H. Auden, (February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973) was an English poet, often cited as one of the most influential of the 20th century. He spent the first part of his life in the United Kingdom, but emigrated to the United States in 1939, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1946.

Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York and spent his early childhood in Harborne, Birmingham, where his father Dr George Auden was the school medical officer for Birmingham and Professor of Public Health at the University of Birmingham. From the age of eight Auden was sent away to boarding schools, firstly at St. Edmund's School (Hindhead) in Surrey, and later Gresham's School in Norfolk, but he returned to Birmingham for the holidays. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford University, but took only a third-class degree. After Oxford he went to live for a year in Weimar Berlin, in whose tolerant atmosphere his homosexuality could be more openly expressed.

On returning to Britain, he briefly worked as a tutor in London, then taught at two boys' schools from 1930 to 1935; first for two years at the Larchfield Academy in Helensburgh, Scotland, where he wrote most of his 1932 volume in prose and verse The Orators. Then he taught for three years at the Downs School, near Great Malvern, where he was happier than he had been at Larchfield, and where he wrote some of his best-known early poems, including "Out on the lawn I lie in bed" (a poem occasioned by the "Vision of Agape" that he later described in his 1964 preface to the anthology The Protestant Mystics, ed. by Anne Fremantle).

After he left the Downs Schol in 1935 he worked mostly a freelancer for the next three years. In 1936 he visited Iceland with his friend Louis MacNeice; in early 1937 he spent about six weeks in Spain observing the Spanish Civil War. A much-reported incident (which seems to have mattered very little in his life) occurred in 1935, when he made a marriage of convenience to Erika Mann, lesbian daughter of the great German novelist Thomas Mann, in order to provide her with a British passport to escape the Third Reich. (They shook hands after the ceremony and rarely saw each other again, but remained friendly and never bothered to divorce.)

In 1938 Auden and Christopher Isherwood spent six months traveling to and from China to report on the Sino-Japanese War; they stayed briefly in New York on their way back to Britain, and decided to move to the United States, which they did in 1939. This move away from Britain, nine months before the start of the Second World War, was seen by many as a betrayal and his poetic reputation suffered briefly as a result. Soon after arriving in New York, he gave a public reading with Isherwood and Louis MacNeice, at which he met the poet Chester Kallman for the first time. Kallman was to be his lover for a period of two years, but remained his companion for the rest of his life, and the two shared houses and apartments for most of the period from 1953 until Auden's death in 1973, though the relationship was often troubled.

In 1940, Auden returned to the Anglican faith of his childhood when he joined the Episcopal Church of the United States; he was influenced in this reconversion partly through reading Søren Kierkegaard and Reinhold Niebuhr. His conversion influenced his work significantly as he explored the parable and Christian-allegorical readings of Shakespeare's plays. He regarded his sexuality as a sin that he would continue to commit, sometimes alluding to Augustine's prayer, "Make me chaste, Lord, but not yet." His theology in his later years evolved from a highly inward and psychologically-oriented Protestantism in the early 1940s through a more Catholic-oriented interest in the significance of the body and in collective ritual in the later 1940s and 1950s, and finally to the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in which all belief in a supernatural God was regarded as something that needed to be outgrown in the modern world; Auden memorialized Bonhoeffer in his poem "Friday's Child".

Having spent the war years in the United States, Auden became a naturalized citizen in 1946, but returned to Europe during the summers starting in 1948, first in Italy then in Austria. From 1956 to 1961, Auden was Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, a post which required him to give only three lectures each year, so he spent only a few weeks at Oxford during his professorship. During the last year of his life he moved back from New York to Oxford, but again summered in Austria. His last public appearance was a reading at the Palais Palffy in Vienna on 28 September 1973; he died in Vienna in 1973 later the same night or early the next morning. He was buried near his summer home in Kirchstetten, Austria.
Wystan Hugh Auden, known more commonly as W. H. Auden, (February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973) was an English poet, often cited as one of the most influential of the 20th century. He spent the first part of his life in the United Kingdom, but emigrated to the United States in 1939, becoming a U.S. citizen in 1946.

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