Personal Choice 93
A shilling life will give you all the facts:
How Father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day:
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea:
Some of the last researchers even write
Love made him weep his pints like you and me.
With all his honours on, he sighed for one
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still
Or potter round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvellous letters but kept none.
Wystan Hugh Auden (1907 – 1973) was a British-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. 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. 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.
A semi-autobiographical poem Who’s Who is one of Auden’s very best poems. Displaying his technical brilliance over the form of the sonnet. And of course the heart-stopping almost matter of fact ‘shock’ of that last line.