W. H. Auden quotes

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W. H. Auden

Birthdate: 21. February 1907
Date of death: 29. September 1973
Other names: W.H. Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden was an English-American poet. Auden's poetry was noted for its stylistic and technical achievement, its engagement with politics, morals, love, and religion, and its variety in tone, form and content. He is best known poems about love such as "Funeral Blues"; poems on political and social themes such as "September 1, 1939" and "The Shield of Achilles"; poems on cultural and psychological themes such as The Age of Anxiety; and poems on religious themes such as "For the Time Being" and "Horae Canonicae".He was born in York, grew up in and near Birmingham in a professional middle-class family. He attended English independent schools and studied English at Christ Church, Oxford. After a few months in Berlin in 1928–29, he spent five years teaching in British public schools, then travelled to Iceland and China in order to write books about his journeys.

In 1939 he moved to the United States and became an American citizen in 1946. He taught from 1941 to 1945 in American universities, followed by occasional visiting professorships in the 1950s. From 1947 to 1957 he wintered in New York and summered in Ischia; from 1958 until the end of his life he wintered in New York and summered in Kirchstetten, Lower Austria.

He came to wide public attention with his first book Poems at the age of twenty-three in 1930; it was followed in 1932 by The Orators. Three plays written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood between 1935 and 1938 built his reputation as a left-wing political writer. Auden moved to the United States partly to escape this reputation, and his work in the 1940s, including the long poems "For the Time Being" and "The Sea and the Mirror", focused on religious themes. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 1947 long poem The Age of Anxiety, the title of which became a popular phrase describing the modern era. From 1956 to 1961 he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford; his lectures were popular with students and faculty, and served as the basis for his 1962 prose collection The Dyer's Hand.

Auden and Isherwood maintained a lasting but intermittent sexual friendship from around 1927 to 1939, while both had briefer but more intense relations with other men. In 1939, Auden fell in love with Chester Kallman and regarded their relationship as a marriage, but this ended in 1941 when Kallman refused to accept the faithful relations that Auden demanded. However, the two maintained their friendship, and from 1947 until Auden's death they lived in the same house or apartment in a non-sexual relationship, often collaborating on opera libretti such as that of The Rake's Progress, to music by Igor Stravinsky.

Auden was a prolific writer of prose essays and reviews on literary, political, psychological, and religious subjects, and he worked at various times on documentary films, poetic plays, and other forms of performance. Throughout his career he was both controversial and influential, and critical views on his work ranged from sharply dismissive—treating him as a lesser figure than W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot—to strongly affirmative, as in Joseph Brodsky's statement that he had "the greatest mind of the twentieth century". After his death, his poems became known to a much wider public than during his lifetime through films, broadcasts, and popular media.

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„No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.“

—  W. H. Auden, book The Dyer's Hand

"Notes on Music and Opera", p. 472
The Dyer's Hand, and Other Essays (1962)

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„A professor is one who talks in someone else's sleep.“

—  W. H. Auden

Often attributed to Auden, but he was repeating an anonymous joke; he did not claim to have originated it. See "Who Wrote Auden's Definition of a Professor?" http://www.audensociety.org/definition.html
Misattributed

„One cannot review a bad book without showing off.“

—  W. H. Auden, book The Dyer's Hand

"Reading", p. 11
The Dyer's Hand, and Other Essays (1962)

„No person can be a great leader unless he takes genuine joy in the successes of those under him.“

—  W. H. Auden

Not by Auden; sources from the 1980s attribute it to the Rev. W. A. Nance (the name seems to have been confused with Auden's).
Misattributed

„We are all on earth to help others. What on earth the others are here for, I can't imagine.“

—  W. H. Auden

Often cited as by Auden without attribution, this quotation has been traced to John Foster Hall (1867-1945), an English comedian known as the Reverend Vivian Foster, Vicar of Mirth. Full history with sound recording http://audensociety.org/vivianfoster.html
Misattributed

„The idea of a sacrificial victim is not new; but that it should be the victim who chooses to be sacrificed, and the sacrificers who deny that any sacrifice has been made, is very new.“

—  W. H. Auden, book Forewords and Afterwords

Assessing St. Augustine's perspectives in "Augustus to Augustine", p. 37
Forewords and Afterwords (1973)
Context: Man … always acts either self-loving, just for the hell of it, or God-loving, just for the heaven of it; his reasons, his appetites are secondary motivations. Man chooses either life or death, but he chooses; everything he does, from going to the toilet to mathematical speculation, is an act of religious worship, either of God or of himself.
Lastly by the classical apotheosis of Man-God, Augustine opposes the Christian belief in Jesus Christ, the God-Man. The former is a Hercules who compels recognition by the great deeds he does in establishing for the common people in the law, order and prosperity they cannot establish for themselves, by his manifestation of superior power; the latter reveals to fallen man that God is love by suffering, i. e. by refusing to compel recognition, choosing instead to be a victim of man's self-love. The idea of a sacrificial victim is not new; but that it should be the victim who chooses to be sacrificed, and the sacrificers who deny that any sacrifice has been made, is very new.

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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