W. H. Auden died fifty years ago today.
He is the single most important writer and thinker in my life, and has been ever since, in my very last class in graduate school, I read his collection of essays The Dyer’s Hand. (Though it’s more than a collection of essays: it’s Auden’s Ars Poetica or Biographia Literaria.) The prose led me to the poetry and then there was no going back.
I wrote my first book (a book that had a peculiar route to publication) about Auden, featured him as one of the central figures in my The Year of Our Lord 1943, and have now produced three critical editions of his books: The Age of Anxiety, For the Time Being, and (forthcoming) The Shield of Achilles.
Some of my essays and reviews about Auden available online:
- “Auden and the Dream of Public Poetry”
- “The Poet’s Prose”
- “Auden and the Limits of Poetry”
- “Sandfield Road” (an imaginary conversation)
- “The Love Feast” (a review of the Complete Poems)
- There are many posts on Auden here on this blog — see the tag at the bottom of this post — but this is one of the more important ones.
He was, shall we say, quite a character, and the anecdotes about him — about his titanic messiness and equally exceptional kindness — may readily be found. I do wish I had known him personally, but his work is so filled with his distinctive personality that I always feel that I do.
Auden has done more than anyone else to help me understand what it means to be a Christian in my own moment — one neither hankering after a vague Utopia or pining for an illusory lost Arcadia. In poetry and prose alike, he has given me great pleasure and inexhaustible food for thought. One of the great themes of his work is the necessity and the blessing of gratitude, and thus he has been my primary instructor in how to be grateful. Today, especially, I am grateful for him.