W.H. AUDEN (1907-1973)

Born in York in 1907 and brought up in Birmingham, Auden went to public school then Oxford University. He moved to America in 1939 and became an American citizen in 1946.  He was a lecturer at several universities. He died in Vienna in 1973.

Auden’s poetry was concerned with politics, morality, love and religion. He worked with contemporaries such as Christopher Isherwood, with whom he had an intermittent relationship, Stephen Spender, Louis Macneice and Benjamin Britten. He became the lover of the poet and translator Chester Kallmann; from 1941, however, the two lived as platonic friends as Auden couldn’t accept Kallman's intention of seeing other people, describing how sexual fidelity is more important in a homosexual relationship than in any other. In other relationships, there are a variety of ties; but here, fidelity is the only bond.

Living in the USA the law was no less restrictive than the UK of same-sex relationships, being illegal until the law began to change state by state starting with Illinois in 1962.  The US did see increasing public demonstrations throughout the 1960s culminating in the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City which are often cited as the beginning of the modern gay civil rights era.