Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after .
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; .
He knew human folly like the back of his hand, .
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; .
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, .
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
- Epitaph on a Tyrant.
Wystan Hugh Auden, an English-born American writer, was one of the most important poets of the 20th century. His works were not only influential at the time of writing, but also touch on such complex social and personal issues as to be relevant to any time period. While taking elements of other contemporary poets, Auden's poetry, portraying a deep understanding of the human psyche and of the world at large, exemplifies a distinct style which Auden himself cultivated.
W.H. Auden was born in York, the son of a physician. At first interested in science, he soon turned to poetry. In 1925 he entered Christ Church College, University of Oxford, where he became the center of a group of young leftist writers who generally expressed a socialist viewpoint, while continuing the artistic revolution of such earlier writers as T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Ezra Pound. This group included the poets Louis MacNiece and Stephen Spender and the novelist Christopher Isherwood. After graduating in 1928, he spent five years as a schoolmaster in Scotland and England. (Brophy 4).
Auden's earliest works are startling in several ways. They contain unusual meters, words, and images, juxtapose industrial and natural landscapes, and mix the rhythms of poetry with those of jazz music. Some critics feel that Auden's first books, Poems (1930) and The Orators, an English Study (1932), contain some of his finest work. (Callan 43) Poems focused on the breakdown of English capitalist society but also showed a deep concern with psychological problems. He subsequently wrote three verse plays with Isherwood: The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935), The Ascent of F-6 (1936), and On the Frontier (1938).