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W. H. Auden

Auden, W. H. (Wystan Hugh Auden)ôˈdən, 1907–73, Anglo-American poet, b. York, England, educated at Oxford. A versatile, vigorous, and technically skilled poet, Auden ranks among the major literary figures of the 20th cent. Often written in everyday language, his poetry ranges in subject matter from politics to modern psychology to Christianity. During the 1930s he was the leader of a left-wing literary group that included Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender. With Isherwood he wrote three verse plays, The Dog beneath the Skin (1935), The Ascent of F6 (1936), and On the Frontier (1938), and Journey to a War (1939), a record of their experiences in China. He lived in Germany during the early days of Nazism, and was a stretcher-bearer for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War.

Auden's first volume of poetry appeared in 1930. Later volumes include Spain (1937), New Year Letter (1941), For the Time Being, a Christmas Oratorio (1945), The Age of Anxiety (1947; Pulitzer Prize), Nones (1951), The Shield of Achilles (1955), Homage to Clio (1960), About the House (1965), Epistle of a Godson and Other Poems (1972), and Thank You, Fog (1974). His other works include Letters from Iceland (with Louis MacNeice, 1937); the libretto, with his companion Chester Kallman, for Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress (1953); A Certain World: A Commonplace Book (1970); and The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (1968).

In 1939, Auden moved to the United States, he became a citizen in 1946, and beginning that year taught at a number of American colleges and universities. From 1956 to 1961 he was professor of poetry at Oxford. Subsequently he lived in a number of countries, including Italy and Austria, and in 1971 he returned to England. He was awarded the National Medal for Literature in 1967.

See his Collected Poetry (1945), Collected Shorter Poems, 1927–1957 (1967), and Collected Longer Poems (1969); E. Mendelson, ed., The Complete Works of W. H. Auden (8 vol., 1997–); biographies by C. Osborne (1979, repr. 1995), H. Carpenter (1981), E. Mendelson (2 vol., 1981–99), and R. Davenport-Hines (1996) and Auden in Love (1984) by D. Farnan; studies by S. Hynes (1977, repr. 1982) and E. Callan (1983).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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