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W. H. Auden

(1907—1973) poet and writer

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British poet, who became a naturalized US citizen in 1946.

Born in York and brought up in Birmingham, where his father became professor of public health at the university, Auden was educated at Gresham's School and Christ Church, Oxford. While still at Oxford, in the 1920s, Auden established his pre-eminence among the young writers who became the leading left-wing poets of the next decade. Poems (1930), The Orators (1932), and Look, Stranger! (1936) made his reputation as a witty and technically accomplished lyricist. He collaborated with his friend Christopher Isherwood on several plays, including The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935), and The Ascent of F6 (1936). He also edited the Oxford Book of Light Verse (1938).

After a spell as an ambulance driver in the Spanish Civil War, Auden realized that the antifascists were powerless to stop the imminent European war; in 1939 he and Isherwood emigrated to the USA. Auden settled in New York but never entirely severed connections with Britain, especially Oxford, where he was professor of poetry from 1956 to 1961. Auden continued to publish volumes of new poetry, among them Another Time (1940), For the Time Being (1944), The Age of Anxiety (1947, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize), Nones (1951), The Shield of Achilles (1956), Homage to Clio (1960), and City Without Walls (1969). He also collaborated with Chester Kallman on libretti, including Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress (1951) and Hans Werner Henze's Elegy for Young Lovers (1961). His selections from the writings of Kierkegaard (1952, 1955) are indicative of the way his thought turned away from the Marxist preoccupations of the 1930s to a kind of Christian existentialism. He also edited several anthologies, wrote critical essays, and made a number of translations. In 1966 he published his Collected Shorter Poems 1927–57 and two years later his Collected Longer Poems.

Subjects: Literature

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