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Auden in Austria
One of the 20th century's major literary figures, W.H. Auden spent much of his later life in Austria.

From 1958-73 Auden summered at his farmhouse in Kirchstetten near Vienna. He died in the Austrian capital on 29th September 1973 and is buried in the cemetery at Kirchstetten.


W. H. Auden




W.H. Auden
1928

Bromide print, 1928, John Bicknell Auden
© Estate of John Bicknell Auden


To save your world you asked this man to die:
Would this man, could he see you now, ask why?
Epitath for the Unknown Soldier (1955)

In her 1975 article
Remembering W.H. Auden in The New Yorker, Hannah Arendt quotes the following conversation between a young Auden and his tutor at Oxford...
Tutor: ‘And what are you going to do, Mr. Auden, when you leave the university?’
Auden: ‘I am going to be a poet.’
Tutor: ‘Well—in that case you should find it very useful to have read English.’
Auden: ‘You don’t understand. I am going to be a great poet.’ ”

 






W.H. Auden
Wescoe, near Threlkeld, Cumbria
1928

Auden's parents had a holiday home in the hamlet


Bromide print, 1928, John Bicknell Auden
© Estate of John Bicknell Auden


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Early life | Immigration to the US

Born in York in 1907, Wystan Hugh Auden rose to prominence with poetry chronicling the political and social upheavals of the years leading up to World War II.

Auden studied at Christ Church College, Oxford University meeting his contemporaries Stephen Spender, Cecil Day-Lewis and Louis MacNeice and also Christopher Isherwood who he had been at school with and with whom he would later travel and collaborate.

On graduating in 1928 he spent a year in Berlin (not Paris like many writers of the time), developing a lifelong love for the German language and being influenced by Bertolt Brecht. Isherwood joined Auden in the German capital and when Auden returned to England Isherwood stayed on, writing about his experiences in Goodbye to Berlin.

Auden married Erika Mann in 1935, enabling the daughter of Thomas Mann to get a British passport and leave Nazi Germany. Despite being a marriage of convenience, they were still married when Mann died thirty-four years later.

In January 1939 Auden and Isherwood immigrated to the United States (at the time a controversial decision in a Britain facing the possibility of war). Auden settled in New York and Isherwood travelled on to Los Angeles. They both became US citizens.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

The Fall of Rome (1951)

Accolades | Summers in Europe

Auden was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his era-defining The Age of Anxiety and in 1956 he received a National Book Award for
The Shield of Achilles.

From 1948 Auden spent his summers on the island of Ischia off Naples and from 1958 in the village of Kirchstetten, an hour's train journey west of Vienna. Due to his interest in German literature he wanted to spend his summers in a German-speaking country and be near an opera. With the help of Austrian friends he knew through his visits to the Salzburg Festival he bought a small farmhouse which would hold a special meaning for him: it was the only property he ever owned. Bought with the award money from winning the Feltrinelli Prize the previous year, Auden was said to have been moved to tears when it was purchased.

He was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1956, taking over the post from Cecil Day-Lewis. Five years later Robert Graves succeeded him.

O
n the death of the U.S. poet T.S. Eliot in 1965, Auden was considered by many to be his successor as the foremost poet working in the English language (a status conferred on Eliot after the death of Yeats).







W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood
Central Park, New York
July 1938


In January 1939 both writers immigrated to the U.S.


Toned bromide print, 1938, Louise Dahl-Wolfe
© Smith Archive / Alamy Stock Foto

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The sky is darkening like a stain;
Something is going to fall like rain,
And it won't be flowers.
The Witnesses (1935)






W.H. Auden

1967

Pen and ink, 1967, Don Bachardy
© Granger Historical Picture Archive / Alamy Stock Foto

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Return to England | Vienna

Failing health led Auden to leave New York in 1972. He returned to Europe to spend his winters in England, moving into a cottage in the grounds of Christ Church College at Oxford University where he had once studied.

Having spent the following summer in his farmhouse in Kirchstetten, on 28th September 1973 Auden held a poetry recital at the Palais Palffy on Josefsplatz in the Old Town of Vienna. He returned to his nearby hotel to fly to England the next day but died during the night.

Auden has a memorial in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey but is buried at the cemetery in Kirchstetten where a museum can be visited in his summer home.

I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky

As I Walked Out One Evening (1940)
  Sources
Drabble, M. (Ed.) (1995). Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Various (Eds.) (1995). Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of Literature. Springfield: Merriam-Webster

T
he W.H. Auden Society. Retrieved 22.01.2022 from https://www.audensociety.org/

The Academy of American Poets. Retrieved 22.01.2022 from https://poets.org/

The Poetry Foundation. Retrieved 22.01.2022 from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/

 

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Three Faces of W.H. Auden

BBC Radio 4
September 25th 2023 (Ep. 1)
October 2nd 2023 (Ep. 2)
October 9th 2023 (Ep. 3)

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Auden's death in Vienna a new 3-part series looks at his work. Michael Symmons Roberts visits Vienna and Kirchstetten and looks at the three faces of Auden's poetry:
his political poetry,
his religious poetry and
Auden's poetry about love.
 
Auden's poetry, recited
 

As I Walked Out
One Evening

(1940)
by W.H. Auden

Recited by

Rachel Ries
Music by
Hilary James &
Adelyn Strei

 

As I Walked Out
One Evening

(1940)
by W.H. Auden

Recited by

W.H. Auden


 

W.H. Auden
The Poetry Archive

Three poems recited by

W.H. Auden



 
Auden's poetry, in film
 

As I Walked Out
One Evening

(1940)
by W.H. Auden

Recited by

Ethan Hawke
Before Sunrise (1995)


 


Funeral Blues/
Stop All the Clocks

(1936)
by W.H. Auden

Recited by
John Hannah
Four Weddings
and a Funeral
(1994)



 
Auden's life (and works)
 

The W.H. Auden Society


 

W.H. Auden
The Poetry Foundation


 

W.H. Auden
The Academy of
American Poets



 
Auden, in articles
 


W.H. Auden
Dies in Vienna

by Israel Shenker
The New York Times
(September 30th 1973)


 

Remembering
W.H. Auden

by Hannah Arendt
The New Yorker (1975)


 
Auden's places
 

Kirchstetten
Auden's summer
home in Austria
(German language)


 

Poet's Corner

Westminster Abbey
Auden's memorial


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