Wystan Hugh Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden, the son of a doctor, was born in York in 1907. Auden was educated at Gresham School and Christ Church, Oxford, where he gained a third class honours degree in 1928.

While at university Auden emerged as a promising poet. His early books include Poems (1930), The Orators (1932), The Dance of Death (1933) and Look Stranger! (1936). In collaboration with Christopher Isherwood he also wrote the plays The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935) and The Ascent of F6 (1936).

In January 1937 Auden went to Spain to support the International Brigades fighting in the Spanish Civil War. He visited Barcelona and Valencia where he wrote articles on the war for the New Statesman. When he returned to England he was active in the campaign in favour of the Popular Front government.

Auden's poem, Spain 1937, caused an impact on European left-wing intellectuals. In later years, Auden rejected his Marxist past and described the poem as "trash" and that he was "ashamed to have written."

Auden emigrated to the United States with Christopher Isherwood in 1939. During the Second World War he published The Double Man (1941) and For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio (1944).

In 1947 Auden became an American citizen. He completely rejected his left-wing past and his post-war work reflected his growing interest in religion. This included The Age of Anxiety (1947), Nones (1951), The Shield of Achilles (1955) The Old Man's Road (1956), Homage to Clio (1960), About this House (1967),City Walls and Other Poems (1969), American Graffiti (1971) and Epistle to a Godson (1972).

Wystan Hugh Auden died in 1973.

Primary Sources

(1) W. H. Auden, Spain (1937)

And the life, if it answers at all, replies from the heart

And the eyes and the lungs, from the shops and squares of the city:

"O no, I am not the Mover,

Not today, not to you. To you I'm the

"Yes-man, the bar-companion, the easily-duped:

I am whatever you do; I am your vow to be

Good, your humorous story;

I am your business voice; I am your marriage.

"What's your proposal? To build the Just City? I will,

I agree. Or is it the suicide pact, the romantic

Death? Very well, I accept, for

I am your choice, your decision: yes, I am Spain."

The stars are dead; the animals will not look:

We are left alone with our day, and the time is short and

History to the defeated

May say Alas but cannot help or pardon.

(2) Kenneth Sinclair Loutit, Very Little Luggage (2009)

During my December visit, Auden dropped into the Committee's offices during a lunch hour when I happenned to be there alone. He had come in on impulse; he was very broke. He wanted to help but he could not give us any money. He did have a small bundle of poems with him that he placed in my hand. Some of them directly related to Spain, and we stayed chatting together when suddenly he got up and left. I was going back to Spain the next day so instead of taking them with me I passed the poems to the Secretariat. It is a pity that the Spanish Medical Aid Archives have been lost. I cannot believe they have simply been burnt and Auden's poems along with them. They must be somewhere lying around, hidden and forgotten to this day. This was the nearest Auden got to working as a stretcher-bearer. There was never any need to make that claim because the support of poets and writers was real and precious in itself. Perhaps those poems were sold in manuscript and the little they then fetched joined with all the other mites from the hundreds of thousands of our supporters who were often themselves on the poverty line.