W H Auden (1907-1973)
The poet Wystan Hugh Auden was born at 54 Bootham, York on 21 February 1907. He was the youngest son of Dr George Augustus Auden, a general practitioner, and his wife, Constance Rosalie, née Bicknell. In 1908 his family moved to Birmingham.From the ages six to twelve, wrote Auden, “I spent a great many of my waking hours in the fabrication of a private secondary sacred world, the basic elements of which were (a) a limestone landscape mainly derived from the Pennine Moors in the North of England, and (b) an industry - lead mining”. His visits to the Pennine landscape and its declining lead-mining industry figure in many of his poems.
Auden was educated at Oxford University, graduating in 1928. He went to live in Berlin for a year, returning to England to become a teacher. His early poetry made his reputation as a witty and technically accomplished writer. He collaborated on a number of plays with Christopher Isherwood, whom he had met at school.
Although he was a homosexual, Auden married Erika Mann, the daughter of the German novelist Thomas Mann in 1935. It was a marriage of convenience, making it possible for her to gain British citizenship and escape Nazi Germany.
In 1939, Auden and Isherwood emigrated to the United States. This was a controversial move, regarded by some as a flight from danger on the eve of war in Europe. In New York, Auden met poet Chester Kallman who would be his companion for the rest of his life. Auden taught at a number of American universities and, in 1946, took US citizenship.
He continued to publish poetry including The Age of Anxiety (1947) for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
From 1956 to 1961 he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.
In 1972, with his health in decline, Auden left America and took up residence in Oxford, in a cottage belonging to his old college, Christ Church. He died in Austria on 29 September 1973.
Among Auden's most famous works is Funeral Blues, which achieved international fame when it was read in the hit film Four Weddings And A Funeral.
The City of York Auden Society was founded in 2002 to raise awareness of Auden's life and work and his connection with York.