The Josephine Hart Poetry Hour: The Poetry of W H Auden

October 1, 2020

‘One Sunday afternoon in March 1922, a school friend casually asked me if I wrote poetry. I, who had never written a line or even read one with pleasure, decided at that moment that poetry was my vocation.’

Poems, published in 1930 by T. S. Eliot at Faber and Faber made Auden’s name almost immediately – in the history of English literature, only Byron became famous more quickly.

During his lifetime he garnered many awards and honours; in America he won the Gold Medal for Poetry, the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1956 he was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.

‘Poetry’, Auden once wrote, is ‘memorable speech’.

He also said: ‘No poem which is not better heard than read is good poetry‘.

Auden was a visionary and his poems sound a warning bell. As they summon us to undo ‘the folded lie,/The romantic lie in the brain/Of the sensual man-in-the-street’ they also remind us: ‘We must love one another or die.’