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AP Literature: Poetry: Auden, W. H.

Poet

Bio

English poet, playwright, critic, and librettist Wystan Hugh Auden exerted a major influence on the poetry of the 20th century. Auden grew up in Birmingham, England and was known for his extraordinary intellect and wit.

His first book, Poems, was published in 1930 with the help of T.S. Eliot. Just before World War II broke out, Auden emigrated to the United States where he met the poet Chester Kallman who became his lifelong lover. Auden won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for The Age of Anxiety. Much of his poetry is concerned with moral issues and evidences a strong political, social, and psychological context. While the teachings of Marx and Freud weighed heavily in his early work, they later gave way to religious and spiritual influences.

Some critics have called Auden an “antiromantic”—a poet of analytical clarity who sought for order, for universal patterns of human existence. Auden’s poetry is considered versatile and inventive, ranging from the tersely epigrammatic to book-length verse, and incorporating a vast range of scientific knowledge. Throughout his career, he collaborated with Christopher Isherwood and Louis MacNeice, and also frequently joined with Chester Kallman to create libretti for musical works by Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
 

Poem: Ode to Medieval Poets

Ode to the Medieval Poets

 

Chaucer, Langland, Douglas, Dunbar, with all your 
brother Anons, how on earth did you ever manage, 
    without anaesthetics or plumbing, 
    in daily peril from witches, warlocks,

lepers, The Holy Office, foreign mercenaries 
burning as they came, to write so cheerfully, 
    with no grimaces of self-pathos? 
    Long-winded you could be but not vulgar,

bawdy but not grubby, your raucous flytings 
sheer high-spirited fun, whereas our makers, 
    beset by every creature comfort, 
    immune, they believe, to all superstitions,

even at their best are so often morose or 
kinky, petrified by their gorgon egos. 
    We all ask, but I doubt if anyone 
    can really say why all age-groups should find our

Age quite so repulsive. Without its heartless 
engines, though, you could not tenant my book-shelves, 
    on hand to delect my ear and chuckle 
    my sad flesh: I would gladly just now be

turning out verses to applaud a thundery 
jovial June when the judas-tree is in blossom, 
    but am forbidden by the knowledge 
    that you would have wrought them so much better.

Work