By W. H. Auden


Auden was born in York on 21st February 1907. He only lived there a year when in 1908 he was moved to Birmingham so that this father could take up the position of School Medical Officer to the city and Professor of Public Health at the university. In 1914 World War I started and a year later Auden was sent to St Edmund's school in Surrey where he boarded for 5 years, it was here that he met Christopher Isherwood. In 1922 whilst he studied at Gresham's School in Norfolk, and three years after the Russian Revolution had started he began to write poetry - Dawn was published in the school magazine just as he ceased to believe in religion.

In 1922 Fascist rule in Italy, under the dictatorship of Mussolini started and lasted until 1945. In 1925 Auden went up to Christ Church in Oxford to study Natural Sciences - this lasted briefly before he switched to English. Nevill Coghill was his tutor and under him Auden was a brilliant pupil. Nonetheless he surprised all that knew him by coming away with a third class degree. By 1929 after Auden had returned from Germany where he went to learn German, the Great Depression had begun in America and a year later (1930) England had begun the Slump as well.

By 1931 world political events were beginning to change with great rapidity - Britain went off the Gold Standard, a 'Coalition' government took over until 1937 and Japan invaded Manchuria. In 1932 The British Union of Fascists was founded by Sir Oswald Mosley. In 1933 the Nazis, led by Hitler, came to power in Germany: a country which had, by this point left the League of Nations. Italy also invaded Abyssinia at this time. Throughout this period of political upheaval Auden worked as a schoolmaster at two different schools - one in Scotland and the other Northumberland. It was not until 1935 after he had met and married Erika Mann (in order that she may have an English passport to facilitate her escape from Germany) that he gave up the teaching and began 6 months with the GPO film unit as a writer and assistant director.

The Spanish War started in 1936 and lasted for 3 years. General Franco's troops had rebelled against the Spanish Government and at the same time Hitler had invaded the Rhineland. At this time Auden was visiting Iceland with his friend Louis MacNiece. A year later he was to follow the trend and pay a visit to Spain as a broadcaster for the Republican Government. In England Baldwin and MacDonald had retired, there was a Conservative Government under Chamberlain until May 1940 when the 'national' government was formed with Winston Churchill as the Prime Minister. For Auden the travelling was not over. In 1938 he went to China with Christopher Isherwood. They were to return via Japan and the USA and it was at this point that Auden decided he would leave England to live in America permanently. In March of 1938 Hitler had invaded Austria and at the Munich Agreement in September Chamberlain had offered the Sudeten lands of Czechoslovakia to Hitler - a year later (1939) the country was partitioned between Germany and Hungary. In this same year the Nazi-Soviet pact was made, Hitler invaded Poland on 31st August and the Second World War Started. Auden endured change in his own life too when he moved to New York (where he would live until 1941) and met Chester Kallman, the man whom he would share most of the rest of his life with.

By 1946 Auden was a naturalized American. He taught in various educational establishments in the 7 years he had lived in the states (visiting his homeland only once in 1945). He had witnessed the world events around him as Italy, U.S.S.R, Japan and the USA all entered into the war. There had been the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the atomic bomb in 1945 and in the same year both Japan and Germany surrendered unconditionally.

Auden lived through so much in his lifetime. After the misery and turmoil of WWII things progressed rapidly. NATO was formed in 1950, he saw the invention of the H-bomb and the contraceptive pill in1952, in 1958 Castro became president of Cuba, Kennedy was elected in 1960 and assassinated in 1963, the Vietnam War started in 1964 and ended in 1973 and the first moon landing took place in 1969. Through all this Auden led a relatively peaceful life - he was an academic who lived between America, Italy and then Austria until in 1972 he returned to England to live in the grounds of Christ Church College in Oxford.

It was only a year later that he died whilst on his way back from a weekend spent in Vienna. It would be impossible for such enormous changes not to be reflected in any poets work, but for Auden they form the very heart of it - each poem becomes a comment, an insight, a satirical look at his ever changing world.