Show Your Acquaintance With W.H. Auden

William Hugh Auden was born in New York on February 21, 1907. He was educated at Greshma’s school, Holt and Christ Church, Oxford. After finishing his education. Auden travelled the continents and later worked as a school master. He published h. first volume of poetry in 1930 and went to Spain to serve as a stretcher-bearer in the Spanish civil war in 1936. W.H. Auden married Erika Mann in the year 1938 and left England to become a citizen of United States. But in 1956 he returned back to England as a Professor of poetry in the Oxford University.

Auden was the first poet who drew his ideas and imagery from Marx and Freud. He severely criticised the capitalist society from the Marxist point of view. Being influenced by the ideas of Marx and Freud he wrote on social and personal problems in the beginning, but later he changed his tone and content. His later poetry is characterised by a skeptical and ironic quality. Auden was greatly influenced by the writings of T.S. Eliot and G.M. Hopkins. He is one of the versatile writers of the modern age, with a gift of witty and memorable lines. He has brought into poetry a new style. peculiarly his own and has shown new imagery and particularly dealt with current political and scientific topics.

Auden became a Christian like Eliot and discarded his earlier guides and wrote satirical verse. Of course it is very difficult to asses the real achievement of Auden, as he appears to some critics as a satirist and to some others a purely romantic. He was a leader of the Leftist group of poets like Stephen Spender, Cecil Day Lewis and Louis Mac Neice, Rex Warner and Isherwood. He was a gifted poet. For some time he was the editor of ‘Oxford Poetry’. Auden became the central figure of his above literary friends. He was influenced by his friends in their ideas which formed his style and mode of his thought. In his poem he gives a brilliant analysis of contemporary disorders. His poems appeared in 1930 and Th Orators in 1932.

W.H. Auden is the most original poet since T.S. Eliot and also the most derivative. Auden’s reputation was made in the thirties. This is a period not easily understood by students today. From 1920 onwards there was a series of crisis, international and national and everyone was conscious of the rising menace of war in Europe: more specifically, the rise of fascism and the economic crisis in the West (e.g. more than two million unemployed in Britain) made it an intensely political period, when even the reluctant were driven into political involvement. Auden early identified himself with the left wing in opposition to the rise of dictatorship in Europe, and to those in England who tolerated or even co-operated with fascism. Thus his first volume (Poems-1930) is strongly political in content or implication, and this basic attitude remained, in spite of inconsistencies, at last till the Second World War.

Auden was an important poet typical of his generation. Among the communistic group of poets of 1930’s, he was perhaps the most prominent of his generation because his interest were more varied than those of his contemporaries, Stephen Spender, Cecil Day Lewis and Louis Mac neice. his view is wider, and his versification more incisive and penetrating. He 100, is a Marxist and a Freudian. He is an ultra-modern poet, and his poetry is a clearing house for modern psychology and social doctrine.

The poem “Look, Strange” was published in 1936. Here Auden could sheep much of his earlier obscurity and crudity. This is a volume expressing a balanced attitude towards life. This is on the whole, clear and confident, looking forward with hope, and replacing hatred and suspicion by the inculcation of love. Auden’s most serious poetic output of the thirties is to be found in Look Stranger. In the United States of America this volume was entitled ‘On This Island’.

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W.H. Auden, born Wystan Hugh Auden in 1907 and passing away in 1973, was one of the leading literary figures of the 20th century. His work, encompassing a wide range of styles and subjects, had a significant impact on the landscape of modern poetry.

Biographical Background:

  • Auden was born in York, England, and later became an American citizen. His upbringing in an Anglo-Catholic household and his education at Oxford profoundly influenced his early work.
  • His experiences during the tumultuous years of the Great Depression, Spanish Civil War, and World War II deeply shaped his themes and styles.

Literary Career and Major Works:

  • Auden’s early poetry, like “Poems” (1930) and “The Orators” (1932), reflects the influence of T.S. Eliot and modernism, characterized by innovative syntax and a sense of disillusionment.
  • He gained prominence with works that merged psychological and political themes, often infused with moral and philosophical reflections. His poems from this period, such as “Spain” (1937) and “September 1, 1939,” are notable for their engagement with contemporary events and issues.
  • Later works, including collections like “The Age of Anxiety” (1947) and “Homage to Clio” (1960), showcase his evolving style, marked by a shift towards more formal structures and an exploration of religious and ethical questions.

Themes and Style:

  • Auden’s poetry is known for its versatility and technical mastery, ranging from traditional forms to free verse. He was skilled in a variety of poetic techniques and often experimented with different structures.
  • His work often grapples with themes of political ideology, individual identity, love, and the human capacity for both good and evil. He also frequently explored the role of the poet and poetry in society.
  • Later in his career, Auden’s poetry became increasingly preoccupied with philosophical and theological questions, reflecting his engagement with Christian themes and his interest in the works of Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx.

Influence and Legacy:

  • Auden was a major influence on subsequent generations of poets. His ability to address profound philosophical and ethical questions within accessible and finely crafted verse has been widely admired and emulated.
  • He also contributed to the field of criticism and wrote essays on literary, political, and psychological topics.

Critical Reception:

  • Auden’s work received both acclaim and criticism. He was praised for his technical skills and the intellectual depth of his poetry, but some critics viewed his later shift towards more traditional forms and Christian themes with skepticism.
  • Despite varying receptions, he is widely recognized as one of the foremost poets of the 20th century, and his work continues to be read and studied for its rich layering of ideas and its stylistic innovation.

W.H. Auden’s poetry, marked by its intellectual rigor, stylistic variety, and engagement with the issues of his time, remains a significant part of the modern literary canon. His exploration of moral and existential questions within the framework of poetry has had a lasting impact on how poetry is perceived and practiced in the contemporary era.



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