W. H. Auden
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"Only animals who are below civilization and the angels who are beyond it can be sincere. Human beings are, necessarily, actors who cannot become something before they have first pretended to be it; and they can be divided, not into the hypocritical and the sincere, but into the sane who know they are acting and the mad do not." --The Age of Anxiety (1947) by W. H. Auden
He was born in York and spent his early childhood in Birmingham, where his father, Dr George Auden was school medical officer for Birmingham and Professor of Public Health at the University of Birmingham.
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 characterised by exceptional variety, ranging from such rigorous traditional forms as the villanelle to entirely unstructured verse, as well as the technical and verbal skills Auden displayed regardless of form. He was also partly responsible for re-introducing Anglo-Saxon accentual meter to English poetry.
Auden was deeply involved in 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 Unknown Citizen, Musée des Beaux-Arts, and poems on the deaths of William Butler Yeats and Sigmund Freud. Auden's poem Funeral Blues was movingly read in the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral. Before this, Auden's work was also used in the United Kingdom Post Office documentary film, Night Mail.
Auden married Erika Mann, daughter of the great German novelist Thomas Mann, in 1935. The primary motive for this marriage was to provide his bride with a passport to escape the Third Reich. That it produced no children is less than surprising, given Auden's homosexuality.
Auden settled in the United States in 1939, and became a US citizen. This move, away from Britain just as the war was starting, was seen by many as a betrayal and his poetic reputation suffered, briefly, as a result. Having spent many years in America, he returned to Europe, particularly Austria and Oxford in the UK in the last years of his life. (He had been professor of poetry at Oxford University during the 1950s). He died in Vienna in 1973.
Auden used many phrases from Anthony Collett's Changing Face of England in his poems.