100 Heroes: W. H. Auden

The gay man who gave the world beautiful poetry.

100 Heroes: W. H. Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden - known as W.H. Auden - was born in 1907 and died in 1973.

Auden was a poet. His work engaged with politics, morals, love, and religion.

He's best known for love poems such as Funeral Blues, as well as his poems on political and social themes - such as September 1, 1939, and The Shield of Achilles.

Auden was born in York, and grew up in Birmingham. He studied English at Oxford, spent time in Berlin between the wars, before returning to the UK to teach.

Travel was one of Auden's passions. He travelled to both Iceland and China so that he could write books about his journeys.

In 1939, Auden moved to the United States, teaching at universities.

The career

Auden began to build his career with the publication of his first book Poems, in 1930.

This was followed in 1932 by The Orators.

Three plays written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood between 1935 and 1938 built his reputation as a left-wing political writer.

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.

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.

Personal life

Auden and Isherwood maintained a lasting but intermittent sexual friendship from around 1927 to 1939, while both had briefer but more intense relations with other men.

In 1939, Auden fell in love with Chester Kallman. They lived together until Auden's death.

Funeral Blues
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

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