The Influence of W.H. Auden A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.

A photograph of young Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden was born on February 21, 1907. Auden grew up in York, England under the care of his Father and Mother. Mythology and folklore were areas of expertise for Auden's Physician father, and his mother was a very upright Anglican. Auden's childhood relationships with his parents, as psychoanalysis suggests, had a significant hand in the development and style of his works. Auden's works can also be seen to emulate other masterful poets such as Emily Dickinson, Robert frost and Thomas Hardy, who each had influences on his writing. Surprisingly, Auden did not attend college with the intention of becoming a writer. The incredibly renowned poet originally attended Oxford University to study science and engineering. It was at Oxford that Auden decided to pursue a career in writing and thus began a lifelong love of poetry, leading him to become the most acclaimed writer of his time. In 1930, a collection of poems (titled Poems) was published and Auden surged into the public eye as an extremely adept, creative mind. Auden was quite well traveled, visiting Germany, Iceland and China. In 1939, after serving in the Spanish Civil war, the poet moved to America and met his partner: Chester Kallman. Auden's travel to America brought with it a shifting in his personal beliefs. Upon coming to America, Auden began following Christianity and the beliefs of modern protestants. Over the course of his life, Auden became viewed as the top English poet of the twentieth century. The celebrated poet became the chancellor of the Academy of American poets and held this position from 1954 until 1973. The remainder of Auden's life was spent residing in both New York City and Austria. H.W. Auden passed in Vienna, on September 29, 1973.

Through his mastery of writing, Auden was able to convey many important ideas. The poet is credited for labeling his time as "The Age of Anxiety" and even wrote a book with the same title. Historians have adopted this term from Auden, to describe this period marked with so much confusion and unrest. Besides winning the Pulitzer prize in 1948, The Age of Anxiety, had a wide influence and helped the people of this generation put their lives in a greater context. Moral issues, strong political and social views, along with psychological elements echo strongly in much of Auden's writing. Both Marx and Freud influenced much of his earlier work. Auden was often described as Antiromantic, "a poet of analytical clarity who [seeks] order, for universal patterns of human existence" (Poetry Foundation). As the most famous poet of his time, it was very important that Auden sought a deeper meaning through his poems. With many new beliefs magnifying the meaningless of the human life and focusing on and individual (existentialism, consumerism) public urgently needed to once again seek order in their lives by looking for a common existence. Many critics observed that he handed to his audiences an organized "private sphere," something desperately called for in that chaotic time. In reflection of Auden's style, the critic Bergonzi wrote: “At a time of world economic depression there was something reassuring in Auden’s calm demonstration, mediated as much by style as by content, that reality was intelligible, and could be studied like a map or a catalogue, or seen in temporal terms as an inexorable historical process. ... It was the last time that any British poet was to have such a global influence on poetry in English"(Poetry Foundation).

Auden brought a necessary light to his times

W.H. Auden was the most celebrated and versatile poet of the twentieth century, and even today his writing appears to be unsurpassed in its unique style and range. The great poet seemed to effortlessly pen works in every imaginable style and tone. Barbara Everett describes the writer's varied styles in her book, Auden: “In his verse, Auden can argue, reflect, joke, gossip, sing, analyze, lecture, hector, and simply talk; he can sound, at will, like a psychologist on a political platform, like a theologian at a party, or like a geologist in love; he can give dignity and authority to nonsensical theories, and make newspaper headlines sound both true and melodious.” While Auden's poems inspired many around the world, he did have critics to keep this devotion in check. Auden's writing, especially his later volumes, received healthy dosages of criticism. Thank you Fog, one of Auden's final collections, was said to be "half the ghost of what it might have been." In recent reviews of his writings, critics claim that Auden published his finest works when his thoughts were not blurred by faith and philosophy, but still others say this later work is a mark of Auden's fully mature capacity in his writing. Although he has received large amounts of criticism, the National Book Committee's evaluation of the prestigious poet holds undeniable truth: “[Auden’s poetry] has illuminated our lives and times with grace, wit and vitality. His work, branded by the moral and ideological fires of our age, breathes with eloquence, perception and intellectual power"(Poetry Foundation).

She looked over his shoulder

For vines and olive trees,

Marble well-governed cities

And ships upon untamed seas,

But there on the shining metal

His hands had put instead

An artificial wilderness

And a sky like lead.

W.H. Auden

Auden was a deeply influential writer and much of his works ring true even in this modern age. Auden brought his time hope in his work and taught them lessons in beautifully crafted writing. He has gifted us new perspectives and a style that is unparalleled in its breadth and uniqueness. His existence was so influential that a new word was crafted to honor him. “Audenesque,” was described by Karl Shapiro in In Defense of Ignorance as “the modernization of diction, [and] the enlarging of dictional language to permit a more contemporary-sounding speech"(Poetry Foundation). The scope of Auden's writings were so deeply influential and unique that a new word in the English language was needed to describe the full extent of his impact.

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.