W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden Poems

Wystan Hugh Auden published approximately 400 poems and 400 essays and reviews in his lifetime, all extremely wide-ranging in topic and form. Auden won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for ‘The Age of Anxiety.’ Additionally, he wrote plays and worked on documentary films. Read more about W.H. Auden.

Funeral Blues

by W.H. Auden

‘Funeral Blues,’ also known as ‘Stop all the Clocks,’ is arguably Auden’s most famous poem. It was first published in ‘The Year’s Poetry’ in 1938.

Widely accepted as Auden's most iconic poem, 'Funeral Blues' has become one of the most commonly referenced poems ever produced and is one of the defining poetic renderings of grief and loss. The depth of feeling evoked in the poem is equal to that of any writer in Auden's era. The poem has been referenced countless times in other works and famously featured in the 1990s romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral.

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.

1st September, 1939

by W.H. Auden
Written to mark the outbreak of the Second World War, Auden had a complicated relationship with this poem, even going so far as to exclude it from later collections of his work. This only serves to remind us that writers do not control their literary legacies, as this poem is undeniably one of Auden's best and one of the most haunting poems of a century that produced countless contenders for the title.

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.

The Shield of Achilles

by W.H. Auden

‘The Shield of Achilles’ by W.H. Auden presents an episode from Homer’s epic poem “Iliad” innovatively. This poem creates an amalgamation of the classical world with the modern world for depicting the futility of the latter.

This poem showcases Auden's appreciation for classical mythology and the works of Homer but also demonstrates his ability to use those stories and characters to comment on his contemporary situation. The blurring of history, myth and the calamitous events of the twentieth century ensures the poem ranks among his most profoundly affecting and memorable.

She looked over his shoulder

For vines and olive trees,

Marble well-governed cities

And ships upon untamed seas,

The Fall of Rome

by W.H. Auden
'The Fall of Rome' is one of the best poems Auden produced after the 1930s and takes the collapse of the Roman Empire as its inspiration. The timing of its conception, in 1947, and its use of anachronistic details ensures the poem can be read as a comment on the fate of all great civilizations, which allows it to retain its power in many different contexts.

The piers are pummelled by the waves;

In a lonely field the rain

Lashes an abandoned train;

Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

In Memory of W.B. Yeats

by W.H. Auden
This poem is generally regarded to be among Auden's finest and is a fitting tribute to one of the twentieth century's finest poetic minds: William Butler Yeats. Auden made clear his admiration for Yeats during the latter's lifetime, but also saw fit to eulogize the great Irish writer in this poem. It contains some of Auden's most memorable lines.

Earth, receive an honoured guest:

William Yeats is laid to rest.

Let the Irish vessel lie

Emptied of its poetry.

Look, Stranger

by W.H. Auden

‘Look, Stranger’ by W. H. Auden captures the beauty of a moment observed by the speaker and reveals the very human desire to commit it to memory.

This poem by W. H. Auden underscores the modernist poet's ability to create a vividly arresting scene, while also highlighting his idiosyncratic style when it comes to structure and line breaks. It is a beautiful poem that is devoted to communicating the simple but irreconcilable desire to capture the very essence of a moment for future reflection.

Look, stranger, on this island now

The leaping light for your delight discovers,

Stand stable here

And silent be,

A Walk After Dark

by W.H. Auden

After a tiring day

The clockwork spectacle is

Impressive in a slightly boring

Eighteenth-century way.


by W.H. Auden

‘Adolescence’ by W.H. Auden is an interesting and complex poem. In it, the speaker analyzes and describes the life and experiences of a young man.

By landscape reminded once of his mother's figure

The mountain heights he remembers get bigger and bigger:

With the finest of mapping pens he fondly traces

All the family names on the familiar places.

Autumn Song

by W.H. Auden

Now the leaves are falling fast,

Nurse’s flowers will not last;

Nurses to the graves are gone,

And the prams go rolling on.

Explore more poems from W.H. Auden

Consider This And In Our Time

by W.H. Auden

As the hawk sees it or the helmeted airman:

The clouds rift suddenly - look there

At cigarette-end smouldering on a border

At the first garden party of the year.

Epitaph on a Tyrant

by W.H. Auden

‘Epitaph on a Tyrant’ by W.H. Auden is a thoughtful poem written at the beginning of WWII. The piece describes a tyrant’s beliefs and his power over everything around him. 

And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;

He knew human folly like the back of his hand,

For the Time Being

by W.H. Auden

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,

Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —

Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.

The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,

If I Could Tell You

by W.H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so,

Time only knows the price we have to pay;

If I could tell you I would let you know.

In Praise of Limestone

by W.H. Auden

Having nothing to hide. Dear, I know nothing of

Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love

Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur

Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.

Leap Before You Look

by W.H. Auden

W. H. Auden’s instructive poem ‘Leap Before You Look’ (1940) counsels readers to take risks rather than being cautious in each step. This poem is written in a wise and caring tone.

The sense of danger must not disappear:

The way is certainly both short and steep,

However gradual it looks from here;

Look if you like, but you will have to leap.


by W.H. Auden

‘Lullaby’ by W.H. Auden describes the love that one speaker has for his imperfect “beloved” and how that love will be enough to content them both.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:

Let the winds of dawn that blow

Softly round your dreaming head

Such a day of welcome show

Miss Gee

by W.H. Auden

W. H. Auden’s Miss Gee tells the story of the title character: an unfulfilled, unmarried woman stuck in the cliché of 1930s repression.

Let me tell you a little story

About Miss Edith Gee;

She lived in Clevedon Terrace

At number 83.

Mundus Et Infans

by W.H. Auden

Kicking his mother until she let go of his soul

Has given him a healthy appetite: clearly, her role

               In the New Order must be

To supply and deliver his raw materials free;

Musee des Beaux Arts

by W.H. Auden

‘Musee des Beaux Arts’ by W.H. Auden describes, through the use of one specific artwork, the impact of suffering on humankind. 

About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

Night Mail

by W.H. Auden

This is the night mail crossing the Border,

Bringing the cheque and the postal order,

Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,

The shop at the corner, the girl next door.

O What Is That Sound

by W.H. Auden

‘O What Is That Sound’ by W.H Auden is a tragic poem reminiscing the trauma that many individuals endure during times of war.

O what is that sound which so thrills the ear

Down in the valley drumming, drumming?

Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,

The soldiers coming.

O Where Are You Going

by W.H. Auden

‘O Where Are You Going’ by W. H. Auden is a poem in the form of a ballad which predicts the fate humanity suffers due to indecisiveness and not taking action.

    "O where are you going?" said reader to rider,

    "That valley is fatal where furnaces burn,

    Yonder's the midden whose odours will madden,

    That gap is the grave where the tall return."

On the Circuit

by W.H. Auden

Among pelagian travelers,

Lost on their lewd conceited way

To Massachusetts, Michigan,

Miami or L.A.,

Precious Five

by W.H. Auden

‘Precious Five’ by W.H. Auden is about the role of the five senses of humans. The poet highlights how these senses are special to him in this poem.

Be happy, precious five,

So long as I'm alive

Nor try to ask me what

You should be happy for;

Refugee Blues

by W.H. Auden

Say this city has ten million souls,

Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:

Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,

The Diaspora By W.H. Auden

by W.H. Auden

How he survived them they could never understand:

Had they not beggared him themselves to prove

They could not live without their dogmas or their land?

The Love Feast

by W.H. Auden

In an upper room at midnight

See us gathered on behalf

Of love according to the gospel

Of the radio-phonograph.

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