Who was W.H. Auden?
Wystan Hugh Auden was a poet, adapter, and librettist.
Date and Place of Birth:
21st February 1907, Number 54 Bootham, York,
Yorkshire, England. Christened Wystan Hugh Auden.
Birthplace of W.H. Auden, 54 Bootham, York
now HPH Chartered Accountants
(© Anthony Blagg)
Son of a General Practitioner (Doctor) George
Augustus Auden and his wife Constance Rosalie Bicknell a former
nurse. He was the youngest of three sons. His paternal grandfather
was the vicar of St John the Divine at Horninglow near Burton on
Trent in Staffordshire. His mother was a relation of John Constable's
wife's uncle. See Nicholas Jenkins, of Stanford University's pages
on all Auden's realtionship with other writers and famous people.
St. Edmund's School, Hindhead Surrey. Gresham's
School, Holt, Suffolk. Christchurch College, Oxford.
Chronology/Biography of W.H. Auden:
1908: The family
moved to Birmingham, England where Auden stayed until he was thirteen
developing an interest in urban, industrial scenes.
1915: Auden went
to School in Hindhead, Surrey where he met his lifelong friend Christopher
1920: He moved to
a school in Holt, Norfolk.
1922: A classmate
at school suggested that he write poetry and he published his first
work in the School magazine.
1925: Auden went
to Oxford to study natural science but soon changed to read English
Literature.. His tutor was Neville Coghill who was later to become
a renowned medieval English Scholar and translator of Chaucer.
Here he met fellow poets Louis McNiece Cecil Day Lewis and Stephen
1928: Spender produced
book of Auden's poems at his own expense with about 45 copies being
printed. In his later years at college he was worried by his homosexuality
and went through analysis as he felt it was against the principles
of Freud whom he had admired and his earlier religious upbringing.
At the end of his studies his father offered him the money to spend
a year abroad and thus he went off to Berlin.
View of York Minster from the steps of Auden's Birthplace
(© Anthony Blagg)
1929: (March) He
was joined in Berlin by Christopher Isherwood who was to write so
notably about his experiences there. After his return to England
he worked as a private tutor in London.
1930: Auden began
a two year period as a schoolmaster at the Larchfield Academy in
Helensburgh, Scotland. Meanwhile T.S. Eliot
had accepted one of his poems "Paid on Both Sides" to
be published in his journal "The Criterion" and arranged
for a volume called "Poems" to be published by Faber and
Faber, a publishers of which he was an editor.
1932: Started a
two year period as a schoolmaster at a school in Colwall, Scotland.
1935. He worked for
six months for the General Post Office Film Unit where he collaborated
on several projects with the young British composer Benjamin
Britten. He also began to write a series of joint works with
1937: He went on
a visit to Spain to observe the Spanish Civil War at first hand
and served as an ambulance driver.
1939: In perhaps
the most controversial act of his life he an Christopher Isherwood
sailed to the United states to set up a new life, Isherwood settling
in California whilst Auden went to New York. Auden claimed he wanted
to get away from the stultifying inbred nature of the literary world
in London, but to many they saw him as fleeing Britain in its hour
Auden once again found religion after becoming an atheist whilst
at university and became a member of the Anglican Church. He set
to to write a series of long poems such as "The Sea and the
Mirror" and the "Double Man". He became Associate
Professor of Literature at Michigan University.
1946: He took up
American Citizenship and also became an editor for the Yale Series
of Younger Poets which he was to hold until 1958.
1948: He won the
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry with "The Age of Anxiety" a
poem written in Anglo-Saxon measures.
"The Shield of Achilles an anthology with the title poem dealing
1956: Auden becomes
Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.
1958: Buys a house
in Austria where he was to spend six months in every year writing.
Many critics of his poetry of his later years were to say that they
were not up to the standards of his earlier work and criticised
them for being self-indulgent and having trivial themes but there
are still many who admire this work.
1972: He left New
York permanently to live in a cottage at Christ Church College,
Oxford University, England.
28th) Auden gave a poetry reading in Vienna and later that night
died of heart failure in his hotel bedroom.
- 1930: “Poems”.
“The Dance of Death”.
“The Dog beneath the Skin”. (with Isherwood), “Look Stranger”.
“Letters from Iceland”. (with MacNiece), “The Ascent of F6”. (with
- 1938: “On the
Frontier”. (with Isherwood)
"Ballad of Heroes" (A Libretto for Benjamin Britten).
- 1940: “Another
“New Year Letter”.
“For the Time Being”.
- 1948: “The Age
“Collected Shorter Poems - 1930-44”.
“The Shield of Achilles”.
“Homage to Clio”. “Collected Shorter Poems - 1927-57”.
“Collected Longer Poems”.
“City Without Walls”.
1935 to Erika Mann, the eldest Daughter of Thomas
Mann to allow her a British Passport to escape the NAZIS.
Date and Place of Death:
29th September 1973, Kirchstetten, Lower Austria
of heart failure.
Age at Death:
Site of Grave:
Churchyard, Kirchstetten, Lower Austria.
Places of Interest:
Memorial Slab in Westminster Abbey unveiled
by Sir John Betjeman, Poet Laureate.