May 20

This Day in History

Literary

May 20, 1946:

W.H. Auden becomes a U.S. citizen

English poet W.H. Auden becomes an American citizen on this day in 1946.

Auden, who was born in 1907 in England, had his first poem published in a collection called Public School Verse when he was 17. He entered Oxford the following year and befriended several men who became important intellectuals, including Cecil Day-Lewis and Christopher Asherwood. His friend Stephen Spender published Auden's first poetry collection in 1928, the year Auden graduated from Oxford. Two years later, Auden's second book, Poems, was published. Auden spent a year in Berlin, then worked for five years as a teacher in Scotland and England. He later worked for a government film bureau. In the 1930s, Auden's work was highly political. He embraced leftist causes and went to Spain intending to drive an ambulance during the Spanish Civil War. However, he was so appalled by the sacking of Roman Catholic churches that he returned to England. In 1935, he married Thomas Mann's daughter Erika, whom he had never met, to help her escape Nazi Germany. In 1936, he published On This Island.

In 1939, Auden moved to the U.S., and his work became less political as he turned to Christianity. During this time, he wrote such major works as Another Time (1940) and The Double Man (1941).

In 1948, Auden won the Pulitzer Prize for his long poem The Age of Anxiety (1947), which explores human isolation and spiritual emptiness in the modern city. In 1956, he accepted a position as professor of poetry at Oxford, back in England. He stayed at Oxford until 1960 and died in Austria in 1973.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date