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W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden
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Irving Penn, 16 Jun 1917 - 7 Oct 2009
W. H. Auden, 21 Feb 1907 - 28 Sep 1973
1947 (printed 1959)
Gelatin silver print
Image: 30.7 x 26 cm (12 1/16 x 10 1/4")
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Irving Penn
Restrictions & Rights
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© 1984 Irving Penn, courtesy of Vogue
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English or American? Wystan Hugh Auden immigrated to America in 1939 already established as a major voice in English literature; he became an American citizen in 1946. For Auden, though, it was not a matter of trading one nation for another. Rather, America represented a free space into which he could escape, both as a gay man and as a poet, from the constrictions of English society. America became his subject, though. The sense in reading Auden is always of a tremendous mind ranging over a series of questions from the eternal to the picayune. If he argued that poetry made nothing happen, he meant it as high praise. It was poetry’s existence above the world that made it artistically important. America is where Auden lived—poetry was his country.
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery