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203 Inspiring Quotes by W. H. Auden

  • Last updated Jul 26 2021

Welcome to our collection of quotes by W. H. Auden.

Wikipedia Summary for W.H. Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973) was an Anglo-American poet. Auden's poetry was noted for its stylistic and technical achievement, its engagement with politics, morals, love, and religion, and its variety in tone, form, and content. Some of his best known poems are about love, such as "Funeral Blues"; on political and social themes, such as "September 1, 1939" and "The Shield of Achilles"; on cultural and psychological themes, such as The Age of Anxiety; and on religious themes such as "For the Time Being" and "Horae Canonicae".

He was born in York and grew up in and near Birmingham in a professional middle-class family. He attended English independent (or public) schools and studied English at Christ Church, Oxford. After a few months in Berlin in 1928–29, he spent five years (1930–35) teaching in British private preparatory schools, then travelled to Iceland and China to write books about his journeys.

In 1939 he moved to the United States and became an American citizen in 1946, retaining his British citizenship. He taught from 1941 to 1945 in American universities, followed by occasional visiting professorships in the 1950s. From 1947 to 1957 he wintered in New York and summered in Ischia; from 1958 until the end of his life he wintered in New York (in Oxford in 1972–73) and summered in Kirchstetten, Lower Austria.

He came to wide public attention with his first book Poems at the age of twenty-three in 1930; it was followed in 1932 by The Orators. Three plays written in collaboration with Christopher Isherwood between 1935 and 1938 built his reputation as a left-wing political writer. Auden moved to the United States partly to escape this reputation, and his work in the 1940s, including the long poems "For the Time Being" and "The Sea and the Mirror", focused on religious themes. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his 1947 long poem The Age of Anxiety, the title of which became a popular phrase describing the modern era. From 1956 to 1961 he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford; his lectures were popular with students and faculty, and served as the basis for his 1962 prose collection The Dyer's Hand.

Auden and Isherwood maintained a lasting but intermittent sexual friendship from around 1927 to 1939, while both had briefer but more intense relations with other men. In 1939, Auden fell in love with Chester Kallman and regarded their relationship as a marriage, but this ended in 1941 when Kallman refused to accept the faithful relations that Auden demanded. However, the two maintained their friendship, and from 1947 until Auden's death they lived in the same house or apartment in a non-sexual relationship, often collaborating on opera libretti such as that of The Rake's Progress, to music by Igor Stravinsky.

Auden was a prolific writer of prose essays and reviews on literary, political, psychological, and religious subjects, and he worked at various times on documentary films, poetic plays, and other forms of performance. Throughout his career he was both controversial and influential, and critical views on his work ranged from sharply dismissive—treating him as a lesser figure than W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot—to strongly affirmative, as in Joseph Brodsky's statement that he had "the greatest mind of the twentieth century". After his death, his poems became known to a much wider public than during his lifetime through films, broadcasts, and popular media.

Dark purple to red to orange gradient

Money is the necessity that frees us from necessity. Of all novelists in any country, Trollope best understands the role of money. Compared with him even Balzac is a romantic.

--W.H. Auden

green leafed trees

Men will pay large sums to whores for telling them they are not bores.

--W.H. Auden

black sailing boat digital wallpaper

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.

--W.H. Auden

None

There's only one good test of pornography. Get twelve normal men to read the book, and then ask them, ''Did you get an erection?'' If the answer is ''Yes'' from a majority of the twelve, then the book is pornographic.

--W.H. Auden


forest near mountain alps

A poet is a professional maker of verbal objects.

--W.H. Auden

white swan on blue sea during daytime

When someone between twenty and forty says, apropos of a work of art, 'I know what I like,' he is really saying 'I have no taste of my own but accept the taste of my cultural milieu.

--W.H. Auden

rock formation under starry skies

I don't think the mystical experience can be verbalized. When the ego disappears, so does power over language.

--W.H. Auden


red and blue light digital wallpaper

Literary confessors are contemptible, like beggars who exhibit their sores for money, but not so contemptible as the public that buys their books.

--W.H. Auden

leafless tree under gray sky

To my generation no other English poet seemed so perfectly to express the sensibility of a male adolescent. If I do not now turn to him very often, I am eternally grateful to him for the joy he gave me in my youth.

--W.H. Auden


bird on pier

Machines are beneficial to the degree that they eliminate the need for labor, harmful to the degree that they eliminate the need for skill.

--W.H. Auden


white paint palette with black paint beside ink bottle and paint brush

A culture is no better than its woods.

--W.H. Auden



blue wallpaper

Had Greek civilization never existed ... we would never have become fully conscious.

--W.H. Auden

aerial photography of gray and white stone lot

Swans in the winter air
A white perfection have.

--W.H. Auden

fine trees waving

The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

--W.H. Auden

yellow sunflower under blue sky during daytime

It takes little talent to see what lies under one's nose, a good deal to know in what direction to point that organ.

--W.H. Auden

white and blue ice in water

Without Art, we should have no notion of the sacred; without Science, we should always worship false gods.

--W.H. Auden

bird's eye view of desert

The nightingales are sobbing in The orchards of our mothers, And hearts that we broke long ago Have long been breaking others; Tears are round, the sea is deep: Roll them overboard and sleep.

--W.H. Auden


green plants beside brown wooden door

Let us honor if we can the vertical man, though we value none but the horizontal one.

--W.H. Auden

withered tree surrounded with snow during daytime

The older lives like not to be stood in rows or at right angles.

--W.H. Auden

green leaf tree on shore

There is no love;
There are only the various envies, all of them sad.

--W.H. Auden

red flower in shallow focus lens

The element of craftsmanship in poetry is obscured by the fact that all men are taught to speak and most to read and write, while very few men are taught to draw or paint or write music.

--W.H. Auden



landscape photography of mountains with cloudy skies during golden hour

My face looks like a wedding-cake left out in the rain.

--W.H. Auden

pink and yellow flower painting

The commonest ivory tower is that of the average man, the state of passivity towards experience.

--W.H. Auden

photography of white wall lot

An unmanly sort of man whose love life seems to have been largely confined to crying in laps and playing mouse.

--W.H. Auden

purple flower on purple textile

The ear tends to be lazy, craves the familiar and is shocked by the unexpected; the eye, on the other hand, tends to be impatient, craves the novel and is bored by repetition.

--W.H. Auden

brown leaf tree facing the lake

Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table.

--W.H. Auden


lone tree in grassland

To ask the hard question is simple.

--W.H. Auden

purple petaled flower on gray surface

It is nonsense to speak of 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures. To a hungry man it is, rightly, more important that he eat than that he philosophize.

--W.H. Auden


mountain summit during sunset

In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start.

--W.H. Auden

woman in black shirt walking on sidewalk near brown concrete wall partition

God is Love, we are taught as children to believe. But when we first begin to get some inkling of how He loves us, we are repelled; it seems so cold, indeed, not love at all as we understand the word.

--W.H. Auden

None

Far from his illness The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests, The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays; By mourning tongues The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

--W.H. Auden

green trees

God bless the USA, so large, so friendly, and so rich.

--W.H. Auden

brown and white abstract painting

In relation to a writer, most readers believe in the Double Standard: they may be unfaithful to him as often as they like, but he must never, never be unfaithful to them.

--W.H. Auden

None

There has been a vast output of critical studies in contemporary poetry, some of them first rate, but I do not think that , as a rule, a poet should read them.

--W.H. Auden



low angle photography of purple sky

But once in a while the odd thing happens
Once in a while the dream comes true
And the whole pattern of life is altered
Once in a while, the moon turns blue.

--W.H. Auden

black fishes

Earth, receive an honored guest; William Yeats is laid to rest. Let the Irish vessel lie Emptied of its poetry.

--W.H. Auden

water on seashore

We do not change as we grow up. The difference between the child and the adult is that the former doesn't know who he is and the latter does.

--W.H. Auden

blue and white striped textile

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade.

--W.H. Auden

rainbow

We are here on earth to do good for others. What the others are here for, I don't know.

--W.H. Auden

aerial photography of mountain range covered with snow under white and blue sky at daytime

The trees encountered on a country stroll Reveal a lot about that country's soul ... A culture is no better than its woods.

--W.H. Auden

close shot of yellow flowers

A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us.

--W.H. Auden

pink and white computer keyboard beside yellow framed sunglasses

Water is the soul of the Earth.

--W.H. Auden


white petaled flowers beside gray wall

Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods.

--W.H. Auden

None

Man is a history-making creature, who can neither repeat his past, nor leave it behind.

--W.H. Auden


green and white bird on black wire during daytime

Of all possible subjects, travel is the most difficult for an artist, as it is the easiest for a journalist.

--W.H. Auden


white wooden hut during daytime

Money cannot buy the fuel of love but is excellent kindling.

--W.H. Auden


stars across the sky view at the desert

The glacier knocks in the cupboard, The desert sighs in the bed, And the crack in the teacup opens A lane to the land of the dead.

--W.H. Auden

calm body of water near alp mountains during nighttime

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

--W.H. Auden


woman standing on forest

One cannot walk through an assembly factory and not feel that one is in Hell.

--W.H. Auden


leafless tree under gray sky

The critical opinions of a writer should always be taken with a large grain of salt. For the most part, they are manifestations of his debate with himself as to what he should do next and what he should avoid.

--W.H. Auden

two grey elephants on grass plains during sunset

Sincerity is technique.

--W.H. Auden

brown, black, and white butterfly on purple petaled flower photo

Those who hate to go to bed fear death; those who hate to get up fear life.

--W.H. Auden

high-angle photography of mountain at sunset

Proper names are poetry in the raw.
Like all poetry they are untranslatable.

--W.H. Auden

black pug puppy lying on gray bed

A poet can write about a man slaying a dragon, but not about a man pushing a button that releases a bomb.

--W.H. Auden

white rock formation on sea during daytime

Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his. If it were his beauty that enthralled him, he would be set free in a few years by its fading.

--W.H. Auden

long exposure photography of lights

Every American poet feels that the whole responsibility for contemporary poetry has fallen upon his shoulders, that he is a literary aristocracy of one.

--W.H. Auden

lion on green grass during golden hour

Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they must do is the same as what they most want to do.

--W.H. Auden

None

In headaches and in worry vaguely life leaks away, And time will have his fancy tomorrow or today.

--W.H. Auden

blue sky with stars during night time

A poet must never make a statement simply because it is sounds poetically exciting; he must also believe it to be true.

--W.H. Auden

silhouette of flower during sunset

Whatever the field under discussion, those who engage in debate must not only believe in each other's good faith, but also in their capacity to arrive at the truth.

--W.H. Auden

pink, red, and black digital wallpaper

The countenances of children, like those of animals, are masks, not faces, for they have not yet developed a significant profile of their own.

--W.H. Auden

red moon at night

Man desires to be free and he desires to feel important. This places him in a dilemma, for the more he emancipates himself from necessity the less important he feels.

--W.H. Auden

woman in white dress holding hands with girl in white dress

Detective stories have nothing to do with works of art.

--W.H. Auden

yellow and white abstract painting

It's frightfully important for a writer to be his age, not to be younger or older than he is. One might ask, "What should I write at the age of sixty-four," but never, "What should I write in 1940."

--W.H. Auden

None

A poor American feels guilty at being poor, but less guilty than an American rentier who has inherited wealth but is doing nothingto increase it; what can the latter do but take to drink and psychoanalysis?

--W.H. Auden


None

If age, which is certainly Just as wicked as youth, look any wiser, It is only that youth is still able to believe It will get away with anything, while age Knows only too well that it has got away with nothing.

--W.H. Auden

pink and white light illustration

A man has his distinctive personal scent which his wife, his children and his dog can recognize. A crowd has a generalized stink. The public is odorless.

--W.H. Auden

2 people riding on boat during sunset

You know there are no secrets in America. It's quite different in England, where people think of a secret as a shared relation between two people.

--W.H. Auden

green leaf

Blessed be all metrical rules that forbid automatic responses, force us to have second thoughts, free us from the fetters of Self.

--W.H. Auden


brown wooden door

Dogmatic theological statements are neither logical propositions nor poetic utterances. They are ''shaggy dog'' stories; they have a point, but he who tries too hard to get it will miss it.

--W.H. Auden

silhouette photo of person holding flashlight under milk way

Recipe for the upbringing of a poet: 'As much neurosis as the child can bear.

--W.H. Auden

sunset

In the end, art is small beer. The really serious things are earning one's living so as not to be a parasite and loving one's neighbor.

--W.H. Auden


None

A poet feels the impulse to create a work of art when the passive awe provoked by an event is transformed into a desire to express that awe in a rite of worship.

--W.H. Auden

person standing on rock beside body of water between green trees

All the rest is silence On the other side of the wall, And the silence ripeness, And the ripeness all.

--W.H. Auden

brown leaf tree facing the lake

Pleasure is by no means an infallible critical guide, but it is the least fallible.

--W.H. Auden

pink flowers with white background

Criticism should be a casual conversation.

--W.H. Auden

selective focus photography of pink petaled flower

Hunger allows no choice.

--W.H. Auden

brown wooden pathway in the middle of green trees

Fame often makes a writer vain, but seldom makes him proud.

--W.H. Auden

brown grass field near gray rocky mountain during daytime

All good art is in the nature of a letter written to amuse a sick friend. Too much art, particularly in our time, is only a letter written to oneself.

--W.H. Auden

photo of giraffe

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone. Silence the pianos and with muffled drum Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

--W.H. Auden

woman in brown long sleeve shirt and blue denim jeans

The way to read a fairy tale is to throw yourself in.

--W.H. Auden

silhouette of mountain

Few people take an interest in Iceland, but in those few the interest is passionate.

--W.H. Auden


person sleeping on gray gang chair

If it form the one landscape that we the inconstant ones
Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly
Because it dissolves in water.

--W.H. Auden

raging waves through shores

When one looks into the window of a store which sells devotional art objects, one can't help wishing the iconoclasts had won.

--W.H. Auden

calm ocean

Aphorisms are essentially an aristocratic genre of writing. The aphorist does not argue or explain, he asserts; and implicit in his assertion is a conviction that he is wiser and more intelligent than his readers.

--W.H. Auden

None

To me Art's subject is the human clay, And landscape but a background to a torso; All Cezanne's apples I would give away For one small Goya or a Daumier.

--W.H. Auden

silhouette of kneeling man

No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.

--W.H. Auden

red and white led lighted heart decor

One rational voice is dumb: over a grave
The household of Impulse mourns one dearly loved.
Sad is Eros, builder of cities,
And weeping anarchic Aphrodite.

--W.H. Auden


cumulus clouds

Life is a picnic on a precipice.

--W.H. Auden

Painting of Stonehenge

The most difficult problem in personal knowledge, whether of oneself or of others, is the problem of guessing when to think as a historian and when to think as an anthropologist.

--W.H. Auden





3 women playing soccer on green grass field during daytime

Music is the best means we have of digesting time.

--W.H. Auden

red rose illustration

Without communication with the dead, a fully human life is not possible.

--W.H. Auden


girl pulling the collar of dog during daytime

Art is born of humiliation.

--W.H. Auden

None

There was still gold and silver in the mountains,
And hunger was a more immediate sorrow.

--W.H. Auden

sunset

Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.

--W.H. Auden

white sand

Hemingway is terribly limited. His technique is good for short stories, for people who meet once in a bar very late at night, but do not enter into relations. But not for the novel.

--W.H. Auden

pink, red, and black digital wallpaper

And make us as Newton was, who in his garden watching The apple falling towards England, became aware Between himself and her of an eternal tie.

--W.H. Auden

photography of white wall lot

Alone, alone, about the dreadful wood Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind, Dreading to find its Father.

--W.H. Auden


person on road at sunset

A god who is both self-sufficient and content to remain so could not interest us enough to raise the question of his existence.

--W.H. Auden

people in the street painting

Now is the age of anxiety.

--W.H. Auden

green plant in tilt shift lens

Health is the state about which medicine has nothing to say.

--W.H. Auden

purple petaled flower

One cannot review a bad book without showing off.

--W.H. Auden

pink and yellow flower painting

Those who will not reason, perish in the act. Those who will not act, perish for that reason.

--W.H. Auden

2 people riding on boat during sunset

Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience. Because of impatience we were driven out of Paradise, because of impatience we cannot return.

--W.H. Auden




green plant in tilt shift lens

The words of a dead man are modified in the guts of the living.

--W.H. Auden


sunset

Soft as the earth is mankind and both need to be altered.

--W.H. Auden

photography of burning camp fire

Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith.

--W.H. Auden

silhoutte of mountains during sunset

Yet no one hears his own remarks as prose.

--W.H. Auden

full moon during day

I think the first prerequisite to civilization is an ability to make polite conversation.

--W.H. Auden


white and blue ice on water

Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.

--W.H. Auden

landscape photography of waves and clouds

Harrow the house of the dead; look shining at New styles of architecture, a change of heart.

--W.H. Auden

Arizona landscape

As a poet, there is only one political duty, and that is to defend one's language from corruption.

--W.H. Auden

leafless tree on body of water during daytime

Acts of injustice done
Between the setting and the rising sun
In history lie like bones, each one.

--W.H. Auden

green grass field

One of the troubles of our times is that we are all, I think, precocious as personalities and backward as characters.

--W.H. Auden

Arizona landscape pines

Caesar's double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
Writes i do not like my work
On a pink official form.

--W.H. Auden


white textile in close up photography

Say this city has ten million souls, Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes: Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

--W.H. Auden

red textile in close up photography

What the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves.

--W.H. Auden



close up shot of white flower

Every high C accurately struck demolishes the theory that we are the irresponsible puppets of fate or chance.

--W.H. Auden


person surfing on sea waves during daytime

My poetry doesn't change from place to place -- it changes with the years. It's very important to be one's age. You get ideas you have to turn down -- "I'm sorry, no longer," "I'm sorry, not yet."

--W.H. Auden

tilt shift lens pink fetal flowers

Cathedrals, luxury liners laden with souls, Holding to the east their hulls of stone.

--W.H. Auden








yellow sunflower in bloom plantation

In times of joy, all of us wished we possessed a tail we could wag.

--W.H. Auden



gray satellite disc on field

I smell blood and an era of prominent madmen.

--W.H. Auden

toddlers standing outdoors

Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse's flowers will not last;
Nurses to their graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.

--W.H. Auden

rock formation surrounding by body of water

We are all here on earth to help others. What on earth the others are here for I don't know.

--W.H. Auden



green trees near lake under cloudy sky during daytime

Over the tea-cups and in the square the tongue has its desire; Still waters run deep, my dear, there's never smoke without fire.

--W.H. Auden



macro shot photography of two votive candles

One cannot review a bad book without showing off.

--W.H. Auden



white brick wall planning

The child unlucky in his little State,
Some hearth where freedom is excluded,
A hive whose honey is fear and worry,
Feels calmer now and somehow assured of escape.

--W.H. Auden


Light blue to purple gradient

There must always be two kinds of art: escape-art, for man needs escape as he needs food and deep sleep, and parable-art, that art which shall teach man to unlearn hatred and learn love.

--W.H. Auden

white and blue ice in water

Desire, even in its wildest tantrums, can neither persuade me it is love nor stop me from wishing it were.

--W.H. Auden

yellow sunflowers

We all have these places where shy humiliations gambol on sunny afternoons.

--W.H. Auden


black Corona typewriter on brown wood planks

Every poet has his dream reader: mine keeps a look out for curious prosodic fauna like bacchics and choriambs.

--W.H. Auden

aerial photo of green trees

To hunt for symbols in a fairy tale is absolutely fatal.

--W.H. Auden


person holding hands

Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.

--W.H. Auden

closeup photo of bird beside purple petal flowers

The parlour cars and Pullmans are packed also with scented assassins, salad-eaters who murder on milk.

--W.H. Auden


green textile in close up image

What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.

--W.H. Auden

blue sky with white clouds

Civilizations should be measured by the degree of diversity attained and the degree of unity retained.

--W.H. Auden


woman standing on beachfront

It is a sad fact about our culture that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it.

--W.H. Auden

car passing by in between trees

Learn from your dreams what you lack.

--W.H. Auden

None

In a world of prayer, we are all equal in the sense that each of us is a unique person, with a unique perspective on the world, a member of a class of one.

--W.H. Auden

silhouette photography of person in gray sailing boat in the middle of body of water

A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.

--W.H. Auden


gray concrete surface

The sky is darkening like a stain Something is going to fall like rain And it won't be flowers.

--W.H. Auden

brown grass field during daytime

Shall memory restore The steps and the shore, The face and the meeting place.

--W.H. Auden


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