W. H. Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden was born February 21, 1907, in York, England, the youngest of three boys.  He attended St. Edmund’s preparatory school where he met and befriended fellow future writer, Christopher Isherwood, with whom Auden would later travel extensively.  Auden went on to study English at Oxford, where he met several soon-to-be well-known poets, including Stephen Spendor, who privately published Auden’s first collection of poems in 1928.  It was also at Oxford that Auden felt the freedom to explore his same-sex inclinations, as homosexuality was more prevalent and accepted there than in his previous schools.

In 1930, Faber & Faber publishing house (where T.S. Eliot worked as an editor) published Auden’s second collection of poems, which was widely praised and sealed his fate as a crucial influence of his generation.  He had a gift for lyricism, writing expressively in a plethora of forms, and his innate interest in psychology and behavior gave depth to his social and political observations.  His work was also influenced by his extensive travel, from Germany to Iceland, even Spain, where he worked as an ambulance driver during the Spanish Civil War.  Auden was seen as a traitor to some, when he moved to America in 1939 and became a U.S. citizen.  However, he continued to write prolifically in the ‘40s and ‘50s, winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942 and a Pulitzer Prize for his dramatic work, The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (1947). 

In his later years, Auden became less concerned with politics and focused more on his mother’s roots in Christianity, despite the internal conflict between his religion and sexual orientation.  He moved back to Oxford in the mid to late ‘50s as a part-time professor of poetry and continued publishing works throughout the ensuing decade.  He died September 28, 1973 of a heart attack, yet his influence on modern culture can still be seen today.  Most notably, his poem “Funeral Blues” was featured in the 1994 movie, Four Weddings and a Funeral, posthumously re-igniting his popularity and book sales in England and the United States.   Auden is touted today as one of the decisive English poets of the twentieth century.