Vienna
2,000 years
of European history,
in one city
           
 
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
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


Top

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.’ ”

Early life | Immigration to the US

Born in York in 1907, Wystan Hugh Auden rose to prominence in the 1930s with poetry chronicling the political and social upheavals of the years leading up to World War II.

From 1925 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.

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.

In 1935 Auden married Erika Mann, the daughter of Thomas Mann, enabling her to get a British passport and leave Nazi Germany. Despite being a marriage of convenience, they were still married when Mann died in 1969.

In January 1939 Auden and Isherwood immigrated to the United States (at the time a controversial decision in a Britain preparing for war). Auden settled in New York and Isherwood travelled on to Los Angeles. In 1946 they both became US citizens.

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

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 in Europe, until 1957 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 the 1957 Feltrinelli Prize, Auden was said to have been moved to tears when it was purchased.

In 1956 he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford, taking over the post from Cecil Day-Lewis. In 1961 Robert Graves succeeded him in the position.

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 in 1939).




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

Top

I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
Till China and Africa meet
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street
One Evening (1940)



W.H. Auden

1967

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

Top

Return to England | Vienna

In ill health, Auden left New York in 1972 returning to Europe to spend his winters in England, moving into a cottage in the grounds of Christ Church College where he had studied in the 1920s.

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.

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie
September 1, 1939 (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/

 

Top
 

Auden




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.
One Evening (1940)

Auden's poetry, recited

One Evening
(1940)
by W.H. Auden

Recited by

W.H. Auden





One Evening
(1940)
by W.H. Auden

Recited by

Rachel Ries
Music by
Hilary James &
Adelyn Strei





W.H. Auden
The Poetry Archive

Three poems recited by

W.H. Auden


Auden's poetry, in film

One Evening
(1940)
by W.H. Auden


Recited by

E
than 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)





Christ Church College

Oxford University
Auden's final (winter)
abode in Britain





Poets' Corner
Westminster Abbey
Auden's memorial


 

Top