History

Wystan Hugh Auden

History

A memorial stone for W.H.Auden, poet and essayist, was unveiled in Poets' Corner Westminster Abbey on 2 October 1974. It adjoins the grave of John Masefield and memorials to George Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. The stone was unveiled by Sir John Betjemen and readings were given by Sir John Gielgud. The address was by Auden's friend Stephen Spender. The inscription reads:

"WYSTAN HUGH AUDEN 1907-1973. In the prison of his days Teach the free man how to praise. Buried at Kirchstetten Lower Austria"

The quote on the stone comes from 'In time of war'.

Auden was born in York on 21 February 1907, a son of George, a doctor, and his wife Constance (Bicknell). The family moved to the outskirts of Birmingham and he was educated in Surrey and at Christ Church, Oxford. He worked for the General Post Office Film Unit for a time and his verses in Night Mail are well known: "This is the Night Mail crossing the Border, bringing the cheque and the postal order, letters for the rich, letters for the poor, the shop on the corner, the girl next door". He married Erika Grundgens but only in order that she could escape from Nazi Germany. During the second world war he spent his time in America, becoming a United States citizen and teaching in schools there. In 1955 he was made professor of poetry at Oxford university.  He died in Austria, where he spent his summers, in September 1973 and was buried at Kirchstetten.

A photo of the stone can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

"W.H.Auden. A biography" by H.Carpenter, 1981

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.