W.H. Auden (1907–1973) was an English poet, playwright, and essayist who lived and worked in the United States for much of the second half of his life. His work, from his early strictly metered verse, and plays written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood, to his later dense poems and penetrating essays, represents one of the major achievements of twentieth-century literature.


Lame Shadows

The following is an extract from “Lame Shadows,” his review of a new translation by David Luke of Thomas Mann’s Tonio Kröger and Other Stories, which appeared in the September 3, 1970, issue.

A Short Defense of Poetry

The following address was given at a round-table conference on “Tradition and Innovation in Contemporary Literature” at the International PEN Conference in Budapest, in October 1967. Discussions of the role of the artist in society too often bear no fruit because the participants have not defined the meaning of the …

Two Poems

ARCHAEOLOGY The archaeologist’s spade delves into dwellings vacancied long ago, unearthing evidence of life-ways no one would dream of leading now, concerning which he has not much to say that he can prove: the lucky man! Knowledge may …

Death at Random

Twentieth Century Book of the Dead

by Gil Elliot
I must begin by saying that I found this book maddeningly repetitious, and its style far too fancy for my liking. Nevertheless, I think it a book everybody should read. It does not tell us anything new, but it rubs our noses in facts which we would prefer to forget.

An Odd Ball in an Odd Country at an Odd Time

St John of the Cross: His Life and Poetry

by Gerald Brenan, with a translation of the poetry by Lynda Nicholson
Nobody has done more to arouse an interest in Spanish literature among English-speaking readers than Mr. Brenan. His scholarship is impeccable and his prose style felicitous. Spain in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was a very strange country and I am very glad I didn’t have to live in it.

No, Plato, No

I can’t imagine anything    that I would less like to be than a disincarnate Spirit,    unable to chew or sip or make contact with surfaces    or breathe the scents of summer or comprehend speech and music    or gaze at what lies beyond.

Posthumous Letter to Gilbert White

It’s rather sad we can only meet people whose dates overlap with ours, a real shame that you and Thoreau (we know that he read you) never shook hands. He was, we hear, a rabid Anti-Clerical and quick-tempered, you the quietest of curates, yet …


When Auden Met Britten

W.H. Auden, left, with Benjamin Britten, 1939-41

In the summer of 1935, Mr. John Grierson asked me to write a chorus for the conclusion of a G.P.O. documentary film called Coal-Face. My chorus, he told me, would be set by a brilliant young composer he had hired to work for him, called Benjamin Britten.