Wystan Hugh Auden
Wystan Hugh Auden was born on February 21, 1907, in provincial York, England. Over the next sixty-six years, he became one of the most prolific poets of the twentieth century. He was a versatile poet who felt that poetry was "a game of knowledge." He boarded at Gresham’s School in Norfolk and in 1925 went to Christ Church at Oxford. Although he initially studied biology, he quickly switched to English. From there he embarked on a literary career that covered almost fifty years. Auden’s influences were plentiful: T. S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Frost, and above all Thomas Hardy. Ironically, future generations of poets, including John Ashbery, W.S. Merwin, James Wright, and James Merrill, would look to Auden as a primary influence in their own poetry.
The first phase, or "chapter" as Auden would call it, of his literary life covered 1927 to 1932. During this time he emerged from the land of English Romanticism, the Lake District. A pamphlet entitled Poems was printed out in 1928 on a hand press with the help of poet and friend Stephen Spender. After spending a year and a half in Berlin, Germany, Auden returned to England to have his first book published. This book, again entitled Poems (1930), was published by Faber and Faber under the direction of T.S. Eliot.
As David Perkins explains in A Modern History of Poetry: Modernism and After, Auden "seemed in the 20’s to be the next step beyond Eliot. The general trend of his writing, regarded as a reaction against Eliot, seemed to be toward accessibility, a more conversational tone, and a freer use of discursive or generalizing language" (151). But the thirties led to a new "chapter" in Auden’s life.
By the 1930’s, Auden, along with C. Day Lewis and Louis MacNeice, became involved in left-wing politics. His newest works were The Orators (1932) and The Dance of Death (1933). While Auden’s early works quickly brought him attention, these collections were viewed with more skepticism due to his left-wing leanings. These new works were characterized by indirectness of statement, often displayed in short lines, and an explosion of surrealist language. The poems were powerfully disturbing comments on the current state of European affairs. Although not a communist, Auden even wrote a poem entitled "A Communist to Others." This culminated in his minor involvement in the Spanish Civil War (1937). Disillusionment over the state of European affairs led Auden to the third "chapter" of his career, America.
In January of 1939, Auden moved to New York City. It’s here that he completed his most important collection of poems, Another Time (1940). Many of Auden’s oft- anthologized poems come from this volume. In "September 1, 1939," "waves of anger and fear / Circulate over the bright / And darkened lands of the earth, / Obsessing our private lives; / The unmentionable odour of death / Offends the September night" (l. 6-11). This poem supplies a good...