Whether poetry is “relevant” has always struck me as a beginning-of-semester question—also a distinctly American one. There’s a cheerful presumptuousness to it. Poetry spans thousands of years and emerges naturally across times and cultures. What are the odds that such a vast creative output has nothing to teach us?
Still, poets often proclaim their own marginality, even while defending their art. William Carlos Williams: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” W.H. Auden: “poetry makes nothing happen.” Even the swaggering Percy Bysshe Shelley saw poetic influence as essentially thankless: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” In each case the writer concedes poetry’s distance from the main cultural arena. Auden went so far as to quip that Shelley’s phrase describes the secret police, not poets. It’s a great line, but Auden’s own career powerfully refutes it.
Of course, poems don’t move stock markets or armies. But they have a way of surfacing, calmly, whenever the “acknowledged” legislators scramble. Usually all sorts of pragmatic disciplines—economics, political science, statistical analysis—seem to hold the globe in hand; then, one day, the markets plummet, treaties crumble, pollsters wake to shock, and suddenly poetry looks old and solid enough to cling to. Verses of mourning or anger or consolation make the social-media rounds. Impassioned members of Congress start quoting the poem enshrined at the Statue of Liberty, forgetting that it’s nowhere enshrined in law; it’s “only” a sonnet, the brainchild of a single 19th-century citizen and an afterthought to the statue’s original conception.
During the upheavals of recent years, many readers have looked to Auden, too, as monument and beacon. Most famously, his World War II poem “September 1, 1939” circulated widely after 9/11. It caught the mood of the moment, but the moment was a prologue. We are really in Auden Land now. In 2015, as the U.S. presidential campaign turned ugly, actor Jeffrey Tambor quoted from the same poem: “Love one another or die.” When the election went to the billionaire realtor, angry bigot, and alleged sexual predator, the poem looked more clairvoyant than ever: “The lie of Authority / Whose buildings grope the sky.” Friends and pundits, some of whom had never shown much interest in poetry, quoted it on social media for weeks afterward. The day after the inauguration, at the Women’s March on Washington, Madonna did her part to sanctify what’s long since become a mantra: “We must love one another or die.”
But Auden, of course, is more than the one classic, which in later life he came to resent. He was one of his century’s most uncanny prophets in any genre; whatever seedy atmosphere our politics lurches into, his lyrics seem to be audible in the background. This is especially true of those poems collected in the landmark 1940 volume Another Time. Reading about corporate data mining or NSA surveillance, I hear the sardonic close of “The Unknown Citizen”:
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.
As the new administration bars refugees and hounds “illegal aliens,” I hear the opening of “Refugee Blues”:
Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.
And when the new president brags online about meeting some “really great Air Force GENERALS and Navy ADMIRALS,” how can an Auden fan help but hear the “Epitaph on a Tyrant”?
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets. …
Meanwhile the deeper trend of entropy, often associated with Yeats’s “The Second Coming” (“Things fall apart”), conjures too the mocking, apocalyptic lilt of Auden’s “The Fall of Rome”:
Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK
On a pink official form.
Auden isn’t politically irreproachable, but in dozens of poems, essays, interviews—in the deepest texture and meaning of his work—he has become indispensable. You could navigate a dysfunctional country without him, just as you could without knowing your Orwell, but why would you? His witty, accurate, dark, dissenting music has soundtracked the world history of the past 80 years. Listening closely now may lend some small advantage.
Take just ten of Auden’s best poems—“September 1, 1939,” “In Memory of W. B. Yeats,” “The Fall of Rome,” “Epitaph on a Tyrant,” “Refugee Blues,” “The Unknown Citizen,” “Musée des Beaux Arts,” “The Shield of Achilles,” “August 1968,” and “The Truest Poetry Is the Most Feigning”—plus selections from the longer sequences and essays, and you’ve got a pocket anthology of modern political reality. Think of it as a literary supply kit for whatever the coming years bring. Just as instructive for writers, though, is the broader sweep of Auden’s career: his triumphs and disenchantments as the great political poet of his age.
Auden’s mature style bloomed amid the nightmare of 1930s Europe, which brought depression, then war, then cataclysmic war. A model of the engagé artist throughout the decade—in one characteristic gesture, he traveled to observe the Spanish Civil War, then donated proceeds from his poem-pamphlet Spain to a relief organization—he angered many of his compatriots by resettling in America in 1939. Some viewed it as a desertion; as late as his centenary in 2007, the Guardian reported “muted celebrations for poet who shunned Britain.” But the move only helped the poetry, the gathering brilliance of which blazed out into the annus mirabilis of 1939–1940.
Everything is political in some sense, but politics in the ordinary sense so suffused Auden’s imagination that it stamped even his love poems. “Funeral Blues” (1936), famous as a lover’s poem of grief, bears traces of its original conception as a satirical elegy for a dictator:
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
In “Lullaby” (1937), one of Auden’s purest love songs, the speaker hears “fashionable madmen raise / Their pedantic boring cry”—likely the sound of fascists overtaking Europe. (Notice the parallel imagery in “September 1, 1939”: dictators talking “elderly rubbish” to “an apathetic grave,” and so on.) That contemporary threat, along with the universal hazards of “faithless” love and “the mortal world,” provides the dramatic occasion for the poem. The lovers may be resting on Venus’s “enchanted slope,” but the world around them is careering downhill.
Auden excelled not only at humanizing politics but also at politicizing humans, at mapping the individual as a microcosm of the civic. In a 1941 essay, Randall Jarrell highlighted “a certain kind of spatial metaphor Auden uses for people,” in which, for example, “The provinces of Yeats’s body revolted,” “Matthew Arnold is a dark disordered city,” and Edward Lear “became a land.” It can’t be an accident that the people in Jarrell’s examples are also writers. As the most celebrated English poet of his generation, Auden felt early the artist’s burden of “representing” his culture—not entirely different from the politician’s mode of “representation.” Both figures are spokespersons; both must be accountable but not completely beholden to their public. (Auden’s elder model Yeats had straddled both roles, serving a stint in the Irish Senate.)
As Jarrell surveys Auden’s work—his subject was only 34 at the time, yet Jarrell divided it into “early” and “late” periods—it’s astonishing how much ground it covers, how large a mandate Auden claimed for himself. He offers not just stylistic novelty, or clever sound play, or quiet epiphanies but also a far-ranging moral and intellectual vision. He was a master of thinking in verse, obliquely but always cogently, such that we can muck around in the landscape of his ideas (about everything from Freud to democracy to space travel) as we could the most capacious essayist’s. Recall that he imagined poetry itself as a realm apart:
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in. …
To absorb this landscape in all its autonomy and breadth is to realize how much territory most poets cede up front. (Or is it only their critics?) Auden can downplay his ambitions all he wants, but when Jarrell reaches for Marxism, evolutionary biology, Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas, the Hegelian dialectic, Edmund Burke, Thomas Malthus, and popular song—all in one paragraph—to make sense of Auden’s achievement, poetry looks anything but parochial. Elsewhere Jarrell writes, almost offhandedly, that Auden “took the world for his province without much hesitation.” It’s meant as a sideswipe, but a young poet today is likely to find it thrilling.
“Poetry makes nothing happen.” How many poets’ hearts have felt the dagger of that line? It comes from Auden’s elegy for Yeats, a poet who never won over his beloved or saved his troubled country. Readers who resist the line usually point to the end of that stanza, which clarifies that poetry is “a way of happening, a mouth.” Or they look to section III, which instructs the poet to do what she can for her people: sing, heal, teach.
All fair enough. But to me the best counterstatement comes from “Epitaph on a Tyrant,” which begins:
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand.
What use would a tyrant have for something that makes nothing happen?
Where the elegy for Yeats imagines poetry as a private country that scares off “executives,” these lines warn us that executives have their poetry, too, and it’s always threatening to invade ours. It’s the stuff of crude slogans: sentimentality, bombast, cliché. It contains no genuine feeling, but its folly can grip entire nations:
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
At worst it’s pure gibberish, as in Auden’s “August 1968,” another vision of the ruler as monster:
About a subjugated plain,
Among its desperate and slain,
The Ogre stalks with hands on hips,
While drivel gushes from his lips.
Why read poetry? One answer: if you don’t learn to recognize the real stuff, you’ll be a sucker for the tyrant’s kind.
But is the real stuff effective only by contrast with the fake? Auden seemed to adopt that stance toward the end of his career. Here he is in a 1974 Paris Review interview:
A poet, qua poet, has only one political duty, namely, in his own writing to set an example of the correct use of his mother tongue which is always being corrupted. When words lose their meaning, physical force takes over. By all means, let a poet, if he wants to, write what is now called an “engagé” poem, so long as he realizes that it is mainly himself who will benefit from it. It will enhance his literary reputation among those who feel the same as he does.
For any young poet with a savior complex, this is another dagger. (But not an ambition killer: when asked “which living writer [would you] say has served as the prime protector of the integrity of our English tongue,” Auden replied, “Why, me, of course!”) It’s hard to argue with the master, except by noting that language has no “correct” state; the idea that it does belongs more to tyrants than writers. Poetic language is less concerned with preserving definitions than inventing fresh usages. And with invention comes the possibility of subversion.
The odd, sometimes ominous kinship between poet and politician became a recurrent theme for Auden. The second of his “Sonnets from China” (1938) defines both poets and lawmakers by their failures of language; both are exiles from an Eden where word and thing were united (“…the way back by angels was defended / Against the poet and the legislator”). If tyrants are poets of a sort, Auden saw also that poets could be tyrants, reigning willfully and harshly over their imaginative domains. In the seventh sonnet of the same sequence, a bard starts his career as the people’s “servant,” then is worshipped as “a God that sings”—until the people cast him down again. In a later essay on Byron’s Don Juan, Auden quotes a shrewd remark by Lady Byron: her husband, she said, “is the absolute monarch of words, and uses them as Bonaparte did lives, for conquest without regard to their intrinsic value.” Auden adds:
What had been Byron’s defect as a serious poet, his lack of reverence for words, was a virtue for the comic poet. Serious poetry requires that the poet treat words as if they were persons, but comic poetry demands that he treat them as things and few, if any, English poets have rivaled Byron’s ability to put words through the hoops.
Auden, a gentler monarch, was never fully comfortable treating words “as things.” His work in the pure comic mode, such as “Letter to Lord Byron” and “Under Which Lyre,” earns a few wry smiles but has stiffened with age. At the same time, his “serious” verse is full of wit; “treat[ing] words as if they were persons” meant honoring the full range of their capacities, from wickedness to sorrow. And his political verse contains some of his best tragicomic inventions, from the “little birds with scarlet legs” awaiting our doom in “The Fall of Rome” to the lesson on disguising love poems as propaganda in “The Truest Poetry Is the Most Feigning.” Though superficially about painting and not politics, “Musée des Beaux Arts” glitters with the ironies of atrocity and witness: “the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse / Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.”
Auden himself became a more detached witness as the years went by. The activism of his early years lapsed into a kind of quietism; he claimed to worry about “adding to the general confusion and panic” of public crises. (His politics may, however, have cost him the Nobel Prize; he’s thought to have offended the Swedish Academy by criticizing their countryman, Dag Hammarskjöld.) As his style evolved, he began second-guessing some of his earlier works—none more so than “September 1, 1939.” After the war, he cut the final stanza, then agonized over the line “We must love one another or die,” which he revised to “We must love one another and die” (emphasis mine). In 1964 he declared the whole poem “infected with an incurable dishonesty” and renounced it altogether.
Certainly, the poem has its flaws. It’s true that no amount of love can save us from dying (though there are forms of death besides the literal). It’s possible to read “Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return” as too forgiving of Nazi Germany (though the surrounding rhetoric stands fiercely against Nazism). The title is literally dated, and all the capitalized abstractions—“Authority,” “the Just”—are tough to take at first. Jarrell jeers them mercilessly. I remember scoffing at them as a twentysomething. I could see why Auden had been embarrassed.
I see a different poem now. Beyond its virtues and flaws, I see a striking resilience, a stubborn relevance. In the title, I sense a hint that it’s always September 1, 1939; modern life teeters permanently on the brink. In the abstractions, I sense the poet writing against the clock, scrapping the “show, don’t tell” style in his drive to tell it all before chaos takes over. Rather than summon up justice or despair through image and narrative, he lays them bare:
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
It may be that he later found this approach maudlin, like a soldier who laughs at his own terror once the battle’s done. If so, he misjudged: he was reacting to a cultural trauma whose shadow has not left us. I find it deeply moving that, on the eve of the worst catastrophe in human history, at least one human managed to respond so adequately to the occasion. How steady his nerves must have been to raise that affirming torch. In our own time, we’ll be lucky to hold a candle to him.
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Wystan Hugh Auden, known more commonly as W. H. Auden, (February 21, 1907 – September 29, 1973) was an English poet and one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century. Younger than William Butler Yeats and T.S. Eliot, the two titans who had dominated English turn-of-the-century verse, Auden assimilated the techniques of these and the other modernists, becoming a master of poetry that was both rigorously formal and radically new.
Auden was a poet of prodigious talent and output, living at a time of immense transition both in the world at large and in the poetic scene in particular. During the decades in which he lived, the ambitious, Modern poetry of Ezra Pound, Eliot, and Yeats would give way to a flood of contemporary poetic schools—from the Confessionalism of Robert Lowell to the formalism of Philip Larkin to the postmodernism of John Ashbery—all of which have competed for dominance in poetry ever since. Auden lived right at the center of this major sea-change in poetic development; his double-life as a British and American citizen only heightened his impact on the Anglophone world; and his influence, both as a beacon of poetry's traditional past and a harbinger of its radical future, is virtually unmatched by any other twentieth-century poet. He lived a double-life in another sense: His interests changed dramatically, as he turned from his early political orientation to a more inward focus as a result of a religious epiphany.
Like Robert Frost, Auden was one of the last great poets who possessed a thorough mastery of form. Legend has it that Auden's friends would often ask him, on a dare, to compose a poem on a particular subject, with all sorts of ridiculous formal constraints (it must be in trochaic pentameter; it must be written in the form of a sixteenth century sestina; the second line must end with "chicken") and not only would Auden have the poem ready in 24 hours, but, more often than not, it would be a quality poem.
Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York and spent his early childhood in Harborne, Birmingham, where his father, Dr. George Auden, was the school medical officer for Birmingham and Professor of Public Health at the University of Birmingham. From the age of eight Auden was sent away to boarding schools, first to St. Edmund's School in Surrey, and later to Gresham's School in Norfolk, but he returned to Birmingham for the holidays. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford University, but took only a third-class degree. After Oxford his parents offered to him the chance to spend a year abroad. Auden chose Berlin, opting for Germany over the more fashionable Paris, and his time spent there would fill him with a love of the German language that would extend its influence into his poetry.
On returning to England, he taught at two boys' schools from 1930 to 1935. In 1935 Auden made a marriage of convenience to Erika Mann, daughter of the great German novelist Thomas Mann, in order to provide her with a British passport to escape the Third Reich. Although the couple never lived together, they remained friends and never bothered to divorce. During this time in Britain, Auden began his poetic career in earnest, quickly becoming a major rising star on the literary scene; in particular he gained fame by writing a number of poems and plays warning of the dangers of totalitarianism, which won him great acclaim among British critics and poets. Among the most important products of this early period of Auden's career are the plays written with his friend Christopher Isherwood The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935), The Ascent of F6 (1936), and On the Frontier (1938), which were staged by an experimental theater company to which Auden belonged. All of Auden's work during this phase of his career is marked by his political activism, and one of the most harrowing poems ever written on a political theme, "Epitaph of a Tyrant", closes with a description of tyranny in two haunting lines: "When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter / And when he cried the little children died in the streets."
In addition to poetry and plays, Auden was also prolific during this period as a letter-writer and essayist, producing a work of lyrical journalism Letters from Iceland, (1937) and another piece on the war in China entitled Journey to a War (1939). While traveling to and from China, Auden and Christopher Isherwood crossed through the United States, and in 1939 Auden decided to move to America permanently. This move away from England, just as the Second World War was starting, was seen by many as a betrayal by the political writers who had supported him earlier, and his poetic reputation suffered briefly as a result. Soon after arriving in New York, he gave a public reading with Isherwood and Louis MacNeice.
In 1940, Auden returned to the Anglican faith of his childhood when he joined the Episcopal Church of the United States; he was influenced in this reconversion partly through reading Søren Kierkegaard and Reinhold Niebuhr. His conversion influenced his work significantly as he abandoned explicitly political themes in favor of exploring Biblical parables and heavily allegorical poems on Christian themes, recalling the late poetry of T.S. Eliot. His theology in his later years evolved from the highly inward and psychologically-oriented Protestantism in the early 1940s through a more Catholic-oriented interest in the significance of the body and in collective ritual in the later 1940s and 1950s, and finally to the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer, famous for his principled opposition to the Nazi party that led to his execution, was influenced by another twentieth century German theologian, Karl Barth. Barth held that all belief in a supernatural God should be regarded as a superstition that needed to be outgrown in the modern world; Auden memorialized Bonhoeffer in his poem "Friday's Child," a poem highly representative of Auden's late, theological poetry, the first stanza of which is quoted below:
- He told us we were free to choose
- But, children as we were, we thought---
- "Paternal Love will only use
- Force in the last resort...
Having spent the war years in the United States, Auden became a naturalized citizen in 1946, but returned to Europe during the summers starting in 1948, first to Italy then to Austria. From 1956 to 1961, Auden was Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, a post that required him to give only three lectures each year, so he spent only a few weeks at Oxford during his professorship. During the last year of his life he moved back from New York to Oxford, and he died in Vienna in 1973. He was buried near his summer home in Kirchstetten, Austria.
Auden wrote a considerable body of criticism and essays as well as co-authoring some drama with his friend Christopher Isherwood, but he is primarily known as a poet. Auden's work is characterized by exceptional variety, ranging from such rigorous traditional forms as the villanelle to original yet intricate forms. Auden displayed remarkable technical and verbal skills regardless of form. He was also partly responsible for re-introducing Anglo-Saxon accentual meter to English poetry. Auden was one of the most prolific writers of his time, and his output of both poetry and prose is enormous. Through this vast quantity of produced work, a number of various themes can be seen emerging in Auden's oeuvre.
Auden always saw himself as a northerner and had a lifelong allegiance to the high limestone moorland of the North Pennines in County Durham, Northumberland and Cumbria, in particular an allegiance with the poignant remains of the once-thriving lead mining industry emerges as a major theme in his verse. Auden called the North Pennines his “Mutterland” and his “great good place.” He first went north (to Rookhope, County Durham) in 1919 and the Pennine landscapes excited a visionary intensity in the twelve-year-old Wystan worthy of William Wordsworth; it was on this trip that Auden experienced the epiphany that led him to become an artist, when he idly dropped a pebble down a well. Auden had been raised in a predominantly scientific, not literary, household, and as a young man at Oxford he had intended initially to become a mining engineer. Auden's interest in the mining country of England and frequent preoccupation with it in his poetry is a sign not only of Auden's Wordsworthian love of untamed nature, but also of a deeply scientific bent in his own personality which surfaced throughout his works as he constantly sought some degree of certainty in the rapidly changing world. Ultimately, Auden's scientific, moralizing self would find its highest form in the homiletic religious poetry that he composed near the end of his life. Poems which most explicitly address the North Pennines aspect of Auden's career include "New Year Letter" (1940); "The Age of Anxiety" (1947); and "Prologue at Sixty" (1967).
Before Auden turned to Anglicanism, he took an active interest in left-wing political controversies of his day and some of his greatest work reflects these concerns, such as "Spain", a poem on the Spanish Civil War, and "September 1, 1939", on the outbreak of World War II. Other memorable works include his Christmas oratorio, For the Time Being, the poems "The Unknown Citizen," "Musée des Beaux-Arts," and poems on the deaths of William Butler Yeats and Sigmund Freud.
Auden was often thought of as part of a group of like-minded writers including Edward Upward, Christopher Isherwood, Louis MacNeice (with whom he collaborated on Letters from Iceland in 1936), Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender. Although never given a formal name, this group which wrote prolifically during the 1930's in Britain was one of the most influential movements in early twentieth-century English poetry, and was largely responsible for the furtherance of modernism in England as well as the alignment of poetry with politically active causes. Auden himself, however, stopped thinking of himself as part of any group after about the age of 24.
Did you know?
Auden was one of the first prominent critics to praise J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
Auden also collaborated closely with composers, writing an operetta libretto for Benjamin Britten, and, in collaboration with Chester Kallman, a libretto for Igor Stravinsky and two libretti for Hans Werner Henze. Auden was a frequent correspondent and longtime friend of J.R.R. Tolkien (although they rarely saw each other). He was among the most prominent early critics to praise The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote in a 1971 letter, "I am... very deeply in Auden's debt in recent years. His support of me and interest in my work has been one of my chief encouragements. He gave me very good reviews, notices and letters from the beginning when it was by no means a popular thing to do. He was, in fact, sneered at for it."
Auden's importance to his fellow artists and writers is in some degree comparable with that of Ezra Pound to an earlier generation. In addition to being a prolific poet and writer in his own right, Auden was also a prominent friend and correspondent with a number of the rising stars of his own times, including James Merill and Philip Larkin. His legacy as one of the most important poets of Modernism is indisputable, and he continues to be one of the major luminaries for poets writing today.
- Poems (1928, privately printed; reprinted 1930)
- Paid on Both Sides: A Charade (1928, verse play; not published separately)
- The Orators:An English Study (1932, poetry and prose)
- The Dance of Death (1933, play)
- The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935, play, with Christopher Isherwood)
- Night Mail (1936, documentary film narrative, not published separately except as a program note)
- Look, Stranger! (1936, poetry, published in the United States as On this Island)
- Letters from Iceland (1936, travelogue, with Louis MacNeice)
- The Ascent of F6 (1936, play, with Christopher Isherwood)
- Spain (1937, poetry, pamphlet)
- On the Frontier (1938, play, with Christopher Isherwood)
- Journey to a War (1939, travelogue, with Christopher Isherwood)
- The Prolific and the Devourer (1939, essays; not published until 1993)
- Another Time (1940, poetry)
- Paul Bunyan (1941, libretto for operetta by Benjamin Britten; not published until 1976)
- The Double Man (1941, poetry and essays; published in England as New Year Letter)
- Three Songs for St. Cecilia's Day (1941, pamphlet with poem written for Benjamin Britten's 1942 choral piece Hymn to St. Cecilia; later retitled "Anthem for St. Cecilia's Day: for Benjamin Britten")
- For the Time Being (1944, two long poems: "The Sea and the Mirror" and "For the Time Being")
- The Collected Poetry of W.H. Auden (1945; includes new poems)
- The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (1947, poetry; won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry)
- The Enchafed Flood (1950, essays)
- Collected Shorter Poems, 1930-1944 (1950)
- The Rake's Progress (1951, with Chester Kallman, libretto for an opera by Igor Stravinsky)
- Nones (1951, poetry)
- Mountains (1954, pamphlet poem)
- The Shield of Achilles (1955, poetry; won the 1956 National Book Award for Poetry)
- The Magic Flute (1956, with Chester Kallman, English translation of Emanuel Schikaneder's original German libretto to the Mozart opera Die Zauberflöte)
- Homage to Clio (1960, poetry)
- Don Giovanni (1961, with Chester Kallman, English translation of Lorenzo da Ponte's original Italian libretto to the Mozart opera)
- Elegy for Young Lovers (1961, with Chester Kallman, libretto for an opera by Hans Werner Henze)
- The Dyer's Hand (1962, essays)
- Selected Essays (1964)
- About the House (1965, poetry)
- The Bassarids (1961, with Chester Kallman, libretto for an opera by Hans Werner Henze)
- Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 (1966)
- Secondary Worlds (1967, essays)
- Collected Longer Poems (1969)
- City Without Walls and Many Other Poems (1969)
- A Certain World: A Commonplace Book (1970, favorite quotations by others with commentary by Auden)
- Academic Graffiti (1971)
- Epistle to a Godson and Other Poems (1972)
- Forewords and Afterwords (1973, essays)
- Thank You, Fog: Last Poems (1974; posthumous)
- Collected Poems (1976, new edition 1991, ed. by Edward Mendelson)
- The English Auden: Poems, Essays, and Dramatic Writings, 1927-1939 (1977, ed. by Edward Mendelson)
- Selected Poems (1979, ed. by Edward Mendelson)
- Plays and Other Dramatic Writings, 1927-1938 (1989, volume 1 of The Complete Works of W. H. Auden, ed. by Edward Mendelson)
- Libretti and Other Dramatic Writings, 1939-1973 (1993, volume 2 of The Complete Works of W. H. Auden, ed. by Edward Mendelson)
- Tell Me the Truth About Love: Ten Poems (1994, contains fifteen poems in later British editions)
- Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928 (1994, ed. by Katherine Bucknell; expanded edition 2003)
- As I Walked Out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse (1995)
- Auden: Poems (1995; Everyman's Library Pocket Poets series)
- Prose and Travel Books in Prose and Verse: Volume I, 1926-1938 (1997, volume 3 of The Complete Works of W. H. Auden, ed. by Edward Mendelson)
- W.H. Auden: Poems Selected By John Fuller (2000)
- Lectures on Shakespeare (2001, reconstructed and ed. by Arthur Kirsch)
- Prose, Volume II: 1939-1948 (2002, volume 4 of The Complete Works of W. H. Auden, ed. by Edward Mendelson)
- The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (2003, ed. by Arthur Kirsch)
- Carpenter, Humphrey. W. H. Auden: A Biography. Faber & Faber, 2010. ASIN B011T6ZTN6
- Clark, Thekla. Wystan and Chester: A Personal Memoir of W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman. Columbia University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0231107068
- Davenport-Hines, Richard. Auden. Vintage, 1999. ISBN 978-0679747857
- Farnan, Dorothy J. Auden in Love. Faber & Faber, 1985. ISBN 978-0571133994
- Kirsch, Arthur. Auden and Christianity. Yale University Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0300108149
- Mendelson, Edward. Early Auden. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. ISBN 978-0374526955
- Mendelson, Edward. Later Auden. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999. ISBN 978-0374184087
- Page, Norman. Auden and Isherwood: The Berlin Years. Palgrave Macmillan, 2000. ISBN 978-0312227128
All links retrieved January 25, 2016.
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