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Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973) was an Anglo-American poet noted for his vast poetic work in many forms on many themes.
Born: February 21st, 1907
Died: September 29th, 1973
Quotes: 116 sourced quotes total (includes 7 misattributed, 1 about)
|Words (count)||37||2 - 175|
|Search Results||59||10 - 280|
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.
About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters.
He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest, My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
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."
Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.
A professor is one who talks in someone else's sleep.
I and the public know What all schoolchildren learn, Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one, Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun, Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods; For nothing now can ever come to any good.
For the error bred in the bone Of each woman and each man Craves what it cannot have, Not universal love But to be loved alone.
How should we like it were stars to burn With a passion for us we could not return? If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me.
Lay your sleeping head, my love Human on my faithless arm; Time and fevers burn away Individual beauty from Thoughtful children, and the grave Proves the child ephemeral; But in my arms till break of day Let the living creature lie: Mortal, guilty, but to me The entirely beautiful.
We would rather be ruined than changed We would rather die in our dread Than climb the cross of the moment And let our illusions die.
I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night.
I'll love you, dear, I'll love you Till China and Africa meet, And the river jumps over the mountain And the salmon sing in the street,I'll love you till the ocean Is folded and hung up to dry And the seven stars go squawking Like geese about the sky.
All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And the lie of Authority Whose buildings grope the sky: There is no such thing as the State And no one exists alone; Hunger allows no choice To the citizen or the police; We must love one another or die.
Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.
Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.
The windiest militant trash Important Persons shout Is not so crude as our wish.
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.
A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.
Into this neutral air Where blind skyscrapers use Their full height to proclaim The strength of Collective Man, Each language pours its vain Competitive excuse.
Defenceless under the night Our world in stupor lies; Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light Flash out wherever the Just Exchange their messages: May I, composed like them Of Eros and of dust, Beleaguered by the same Negation and despair, Show an affirming flame.
'O plunge your hands in water, Plunge them in up to the wrist; Stare, stare in the basin And wonder what you've missed.'The glacier knocks in the cupboard, The desert sighs in the bed, And the crack in the tea-cup opens A lane to the land of the dead.'
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.
No person can be a great leader unless he takes genuine joy in the successes of those under him.
A ragged urchin, aimless and alone, Loitered about that vacancy: a bird Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone: That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third, Were axioms to him, who'd never heard Of any world where promises were kept Or one could weep because another wept.
Music is the best means we have of digesting time.
All sin tends to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is what is called damnation.
Every autobiography is concerned with two characters, a Don Quixote, the Ego, and a Sancho Panza, the Self.
A crowd of ordinary decent folk Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke As three pale figures were led forth and bound To three posts driven upright in the ground.
Out of the air a voice without a face Proved by statistics that some cause was just In tones as dry and level as the place: No one was cheered and nothing was discussed...
No poet or novelist wishes he were the only one who ever lived, but most of them wish they were the only one alive, and quite a number fondly believe their wish has been granted.
A million eyes, a million boots in line, Without expression, waiting for a sign.
Marriage is rarely bliss But, surely it would be worse As particles to pelt At thousands of miles per sec About a universe In which a lover's kiss Would either not be felt Or break the loved one's neck.
The mass and majesty of this world, all That carries weight and always weighs the same Lay in the hands of others; they were small And could not hope for help and no help came: What their foes like to do was done, their shame Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride And died as men before their bodies died.
Follow, poet, follow right To the bottom of the night, With your unconstraining voice Still persuade us to rejoice; With the farming of a verse Make a vineyard of the curse, Sing of human unsuccess In a rapture of distress; In the deserts of the heart Let the healing fountains start, In the prison of his days Teach the free man how to praise.
One cannot review a bad book without showing off.
Sad is Eros, builder of cities, And weeping anarchic Aphrodite.
Thoughts of his own death, like the distant roll of thunder at a picnic.
The surest sign that a man has a genuine taste of his own is that he is uncertain of it.
All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornadoes, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman.
The stars are dead. The animals will not look. We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and History to the defeated May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.
The thin-lipped armorer, Hephaestos, hobbled away, Thetis of the shining breasts Cried out in dismay At what the god had wrought To please her son, the strong Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles Who would not live long.
Look, stranger, on this island now The leaping light for your delight discovers, Stand stable here And silent be, That through the channels of the ear May wander like a river The swaying sound of the sea.
Unendowed with wealth or pity, Little birds with scarlet legs Sitting on their speckled eggs, Eye each flu-infected city. Altogether elsewhere, vast Herds of reindeer move across Miles and miles of golden moss, Silently and very fast.
Base words are uttered only by the base And can for such at once be understood; But noble platitudes — ah, there's a case Where the most careful scrutiny is needed To tell a voice that's genuinely good From one that's base but merely has succeeded.
The poet who writes "free" verse is like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island: he must do all his cooking, laundry and darning for himself. In a few exceptional cases, this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but more often the result is squalor — dirty sheets on the unmade bed and empty bottles on the unswept floor.
In the late Middle Ages there were, no doubt, many persons in monasteries and convents who had no business there and should have been out in the world earning an honest living, but today it may very well be that there are many persons trying to earn a living in the world and driven by failure into mental homes whose true home would be the cloister.
Now is the age of anxiety.
Let us honour if we can The vertical man Though we value none But the horizontal one.
In general, when reading a scholarly critic, one profits more from his quotations than from his comments.
Acts of injustice done Between the setting and the rising sun In history lie like bones, each one.
Without Art, we should have no notion of the sacred; without Science, we should always worship false gods.
Politics cannot be a science, because in politics theory and practice cannot be separated, and the sciences depend upon their separation.
In all technologically "advanced" countries, fashion has replaced tradition, so that involuntary membership in a society can no longer provide a feeling of community.
When I find myself in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes.
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.
Young people, who are still uncertain of their identity, often try on a succession of masks in the hope of finding the one which suits them — the one, in fact, which is not a mask.
A craftsman knows in advance what the finished result will be, while the artist knows only what it will be when he has finished it. But it is unbecoming in an artist to talk about inspiration; that is the reader's business.
The image of myself which I try to create in my own mind in order that I may love myself is very different from the image which I try to create in the minds of others in order that they may love me.
A vice in common can be the ground of a friendship but not a virtue in common. X and Y may be friends because they are both drunkards or womanizers but, if they are both sober and chaste, they are friends for some other reason.
Normally, when one passes someone on the street who is in pain, one either tries to help him, or one simply looks the other way. With a photo there's no human decision; you're not there; you can't turn away; you simply gape. It's a form of voyeurism.
He suffers from one great literary defect, which is often found in lonely geniuses: he never knows when to stop. Lonely people are apt to fall in love with the sound of their own voice, as Narcissus fell in love with his reflection, not out of conceit but out of despair of finding another who will listen and respond.
At first critics classified authors as Ancients, that is to say, Greek and Latin authors, and Moderns, that is to say, every post-Classical Author. Then they classified them by eras, the Augustans, the Victorians, etc., and now they classify them by decades, the writers of the '30's, '40's, etc. Very soon, it seems, they will be labeling authors, like automobiles, by the year.
And the poor in their fireless lodgings, dropping the sheets Of the evening paper: "Our day is our loss, O show us History the operator, the Organiser, Time the refreshing river." And the nations combine each cry, invoking the life That shapes the individual belly and orders The private nocturnal terror: "Did you not found the city state of the sponge,"Raise the vast military empires of the shark And the tiger, establish the robin's plucky canton? Intervene. Descend as a dove or A furious papa or a mild engineer, but descend."
All pity is self-pity.
A real book reads us.
One can only blaspheme if one believes.
Minus times minus equals plus, The reason for this we need not discuss.
To ask the hard question is simple, The simple act of the confused will.
Cold, impossible, ahead Lifts the mountain's lovely head Whose white waterfall could bless Travellers in their last distress.
I don't think the mystical experience can be verbalized. When the ego disappears, so does power over language.
I am beginning to lose patience With my personal relations. They are not deep And they are not cheap.
All wishes, whatever their apparent content, have the same and unvarying meaning: "I refuse to be what I am."
The basic stimulus to the intelligence is doubt, a feeling that the meaning of an experience is not self-evident.
Genealogies are admirable things, provided they do not encourage the curious delusion that some families are older than others.
We are all on earth to help others. What on earth the others are here for, I can't imagine.
When one looks into the window of a store which sells devotional art objects, one can't help wishing the iconoclasts had won.
Now the leaves are falling fast, Nurse's flowers will not last; Nurses to their graves are gone, And the prams go rolling on.
A god who is both self-sufficient and content to remain so could not interest us enough to raise the question of his existence.
To some degree every American poet feels that the whole responsibility for contemporary poetry has fallen upon his shoulders, that he is a literary aristocracy of one.
Most people are even less original in their dreaming than in their waking life; their dreams are more monotonous than their thoughts and oddly enough, more literary.
To have a sense of sin means to feel guilty at there being an ethical choice to make, a guilt which, however "good" I may become, remains unchanged.
Let us then Consider rather the incessant Now of The traveler through time, his tired mind Biased towards bigness since his body must Exaggerate to exist, possessed by hope...
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.
Put the car away; when life fails What's the good of going to Wales? Here am I, here are you: But what does it mean? What are we going to do?
The law cannot forgive, for the law has not been wronged, only broken; only persons can be wronged. The law can pardon, but it can only pardon what it has the power to punish.
I never write when I'm drunk. Why should one need aids? The Muse is a high-spirited girl who doesn't like to be brutally or coarsely wooed. And she doesn't like slavish devotion — then she lies.
In a national capital Mirabeau and his set Attacked mystery ; the packed galleries roared And history marched to the drums of a clear idea, The aim of the Rational City, quick to admire, Quick to tire.
Most people call something profound, not because it is near some important truth but because it is distant from ordinary life. Thus, darkness is profound to the eye, silence to the ear; what-is-not is the profundity of what-is.
They never forgot That even the most dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In any modern city, a great deal of our energy has to be expended in not seeing, not hearing, not smelling. An inhabitant of New York who possessed the sensory acuteness of an African Bushman would very soon go mad.
A poet, qua poet, has only one political duty, namely, in his own writing to set an example of the correct use of his mother tongue, which is always being corrupted. When words lose their meaning, physical force takes over.
It is, for example, axiomatic that we should all think of ourselves as being more sensitive than other people because, when we are insensitive in our dealings with others, we cannot be aware of it at the time: conscious insensitivity is a self-contradiction.
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. This is bad for everyone; the majority lose all genuine taste of their own, and the minority become cultural snobs.
Unfortunately for the modern dramatist, during the past century and a half the public realm has been less and less of a realm where human deeds are done, and more and more of a realm of mere human behavior. The contemporary dramatist has lost his natural subject.
In terms of English and American poets, it would be quite just to call this The Age of Auden. Not only because Auden was such a dominant and successful poet, but because he went through all the contradictory ideological phases, from Marx to God. He really is representative in that sense.
The truly tragic kind of suffering is the kind produced and defiantly insisted upon by the hero himself so that, instead of making him better, it makes him worse and when he dies he is not reconciled to the law but defiant, that is, damned. Lear is not a tragic hero, Othello is.
Before people complain of the obscurity of modern poetry, they should first examine their consciences and ask themselves with how many people and on how many occasions they have genuinely and profoundly shared some experience with another; they might also ask themselves how much poetry of any period they can honestly say that they understand.
I said earlier that I do not believe an artist's life throws much light upon his works. I do believe, however, that, more often than most people realize, his works may throw light upon his life. An artist with certain imaginative ideas in his head may then involve himself in relationships which are congenial to them.
When I consider others I can easily believe that their bodies express their personalities and that the two are inseparable. But it is impossible for me not to feel that my body is other than I, that I inhabit it like a house, and that my face is a mask which, with or without my consent, conceals my real nature from others.
In the course of many centuries a few laborsaving devices have been introduced into the mental kitchen — alcohol, coffee, tobacco, Benzedrine, etc. — but these are very crude, constantly breaking down, and liable to injure the cook. Literary composition in the twentieth century A.D. is pretty much what it was in the twentieth century B.C.: nearly everything has still to be done by hand.
Written August 1969 A grand gesture. But what does it period? What does it osse? We were always adroiter with objects than lives, and more facile at courage than kindness: from the moment the first flint was flaked this landing was merely a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam's, still don't fit us exactly, modern only in this—our lack of decorum.
Machines have no political opinions, but they have profound political effects. They demand a strict regimentation of time, and, by abolishing the need for manual skill, have transformed the majority of the population from workers into laborers. There are, that is to say, fewer and fewer jobs which a man can find a pride and satisfaction in doing well, more and more which have no interest in themselves and can be valued only for the money they provide.
The mystics themselves do not seem to have believed their physical and mental sufferings to be a sign of grace, but it is unfortunate that it is precisely physical manifestations which appeal most to the religiosity of the mob. A woman might spend twenty years nursing lepers without having any notice taken of her, but let her once exhibit the stigmata or live for long periods on nothing but the Host and water, and in no time the crowd will be clamoring for her beatification.
In societies with fewer opportunities for amusement, it was also easier to tell a mere wish from a real desire. If, in order to hear some music, a man has to wait for six months and then walk twenty miles, it is easy to tell whether the words, "I should like to hear some music," mean what they appear to mean, or merely, "At this moment I should like to forget myself." When all he has to do is press a switch, it is more difficult. He may easily come to believe that wishes can come true.
The condition of mankind is, and always has been, so miserable and depraved that, if anyone were to say to the poet: "For God's sake stop singing and do something useful like putting on the kettle or fetching bandages," what just reason could he give for refusing? But nobody says this. The self-appointed unqualified nurse says: "You are to sing the patient a song which will make him believe that I, and I alone, can cure him. If you can't or won't, I shall confiscate your passport and send you to the mines." And the poor patient in his delirium cries: "Please sing me a song which will give me sweet dreams instead of nightmares. If you succeed, I will give you a penthouse in New York or a ranch in Arizona."
To-morrow the rediscovery of romantic love, The photographing of ravens; all the fun under Liberty's masterful shadow; To-morrow the hour of the pageant-master and the musician, The beautiful roar of the chorus under the dome; To-morrow the exchanging of tips on the breeding of terriers, The eager election of chairmen By the sudden forest of hands. But to-day the struggle.To-morrow for the young the poets exploding like bombs, The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion; To-morrow the bicycle races Through the suburbs on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.
On that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe; On that tableland scored by rivers, Our thoughts have bodies; the menacing shapes of our feverAre precise and alive. For the fears which made us respond To the medicine ad and the brochure of winter cruises Have become invading battalions; And our faces, the institute-face, the chain-store, the ruinAre projecting their greed as the firing squad and the bomb. Madrid is the heart. Our moments of tenderness blossom As the ambulance and the sandbag; Our hours of friendship into a people's army.'''
By mourning tongues The death of the poet was kept from his poems. But for him it was his last afternoon as himself, An afternoon of nurses and rumours; The provinces of his body revolted, The squares of his mind were empty, Silence invaded the suburbs. The current of his feeling failed: he became his admirers. Now he is scattered over a hundred cities And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections; To find his happiness in another kind of wood And be punished under a foreign code of conscience. The words of a dead man Are modified in the guts of the living.
In most poetic expressions of patriotism, it is impossible to distinguish what is one of the greatest human virtues from the worst human vice, collective egotism. The virtue of patriotism has been extolled most loudly and publicly by nations that are in the process of conquering others, by the Roman, for example, in the first century B.C., the French in the 1790s, the English in the nineteenth century, and the Germans in the first half of the twentieth. To such people, love of one's country involves denying the right of others, of the Gauls, the Italians, the Indians, the Poles, to love theirs.
Man … always acts either self-loving, just for the hell of it, or God-loving, just for the heaven of it; his reasons, his appetites are secondary motivations. Man chooses either life or death, but he chooses; everything he does, from going to the toilet to mathematical speculation, is an act of religious worship, either of God or of himself. Lastly by the classical apotheosis of Man-God, Augustine oppose the Christian belief in Jesus Christ, the God-Man. The former is a Hercules who compels recognition by the great deeds he does in establishing for the common people in the law, order and prosperity they cannot establish for themselves, by his manifestation of superior power; the latter reveals to fallen man that God is love by suffering, i.e. by refusing to compel recognition, choosing instead to be a victim of man's self-love. The idea of a sacrificial victim is not new; but that it should be the victim who chooses to be sacrificed, and the sacrificers who deny that any sacrifice has been made, is very new.