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This Day in History: February 21, 1907 – Auden, a poet was born

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W.H. (Wystan Hugh) Auden Pulitzer Prize-winning poet was born on February 21, 1907, in York, England. The Age of Anxiety [1948]; Poems, The Orators, an English Study, The Dog Beneath the Skin, Look, Stranger!, The Double Man, Nones, Enchafed Flood, Forewords and Afterwords, Thanksgiving for a Habitat; Bollingen Poetry Prize [1954] are among the books he penned. In 1937 W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) were commissioned by Faber and Faber in London and Random House in New York to write a book about the Far East. “The choice of itinerary was left to our own discretion,” the young writers recalled (Journey to a War, 1939, p. 13). “The outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in August decided us to go to China” (p. 22). They left England in January 1938 for a stay of six months, returning in late July. Journey to a War combines entries from Isherwood’s diary with Auden’s sonnets from a sequence titled “In Time of War.” One of those sonnets is devoted to “Macao”; a poem we recall on this day, in his memory. Auden became an American citizen in 1946 and passed away in September 28, 1973.

A weed from Catholic Europe, it took root
Between some yellow mountains and a sea,
Its gay stone houses an exotic fruit
A Portugal-cum-China oddity
Rococo images of saint and Saviour
Promise its gamblers fortunes when they die,
Churches alongside brothels testify
That faith can pardon natural behaviour.
A town of such indulgence need not fear
Those mortal sins by which the strong are killed
And limbs and governments are torn to pieces.
Religious clocks will strike, the childish vices
Will safeguard the low virtues of the child
And nothing serious can happen here.
– w.h. auden

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