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Wystan Hugh Auden

Writer and Poet

A memorial stone for W.H. Auden, poet and essayist, was unveiled in Poets' Corner Westminster Abbey on 2nd 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 Memory of W.B. Yeats.

Auden was born in York on 21st 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.

Further reading

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

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Born

21st February 1907

Died

29th September 1973

Memorial

2nd October 1974

Occupation

Writer; poet

Location

South Transept; Poets' Corner

Memorial Type

Stone

Wystan Hugh Auden
W.H. Auden by Howard Coster

© National Portrait Gallery, London [Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 3.0]

Wystan Hugh Auden
WH Auden memorial

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2020 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

You are surrounded by history at the Abbey, not like a museum where it’s just displayed, but here you are standing where history has happened.

Gerlinde - Abbey Marshal

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