Wystan Auden Quotes

Most popular Wystan Auden Quotes

Art is born of humiliation.


Desires are given not chosen.


Man is a history-making creature.


To ask the hard question is simple.

asking questions

We would rather be ruined than changed.


No human being can make another one happy.


Criticism should be a casual conversation.


Happiness isn't a moral force.  It's a duty.


Goodness is easier to recognize than to define.


One cannot review a bad book without showing off.

critics reviews

Of course, Behaviorism "works."  So does torture.


Music is the best means we have of digesting time.


Death is the sound of distant thunder at a picnic.


Perhaps there is only one cardinal sin: impatience.


Good can imagine Evil, but Evil cannot imagine Good.

good and evil

Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.
— Wystan Auden


The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews.

desire heart

My face looks like a wedding-cake left out in the rain.


Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.


Aphorisms are essentially an aristocratic genre of writing.


Fame often makes a writer vain, but seldom makes him proud.


Money cannot buy
The fuel of Love
But is excellent kindling.


History to the defeated
May say Alas but cannot help or pardon.
— Wystan Auden


A poem is a witness to man's knowledge of evil as well as good.


History to the defeated 
May say Alas but cannot help or pardon.
— Wystan Auden


Men committing acts in obedience to law or habit are not being moral.
— Wystan Auden
To pray is to pay attention to something or someone other than oneself.


The poet marries the language, and out of this marriage the poem is born.

poetry poets

Pleasure is by no means an infallible guide, but it is the least fallible.


Murder is commoner among cooks than among members of any other profession.
— Wystan Auden


A poet's hope: to be,
like some valley cheese,
local, but prized elsewhere.
— Wystan Auden


Proper names are poetry in the raw.  Like all poetry they are untranslatable.


Evil is unspectacular and always human
And shares our bed and eats at our own table.
— Wystan Auden


A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.


Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past nor leave it behind.

history the past

No human being is innocent, but there is a class of innocent human actions called Games.
No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.


And we are introduced to Goodness every day,
Even in drawing-rooms among a crowd of faults.


All sin tends to be addictive, and the terminal point of addiction is what is called damnation.

addiction sin

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
— Wystan Auden


Narcissus does not fall in love with his reflection because it is beautiful, but because it is his.


Geniuses are the luckiest of mortals because what they must do is the same as what they most want to do.


Precisely because we do not communicate by singing, a song can be out of place but not out of character.


A poet can write about a man slaying a dragon, but not about a man pushing a button that releases a bomb.
— Wystan Auden

poetry poets

Every autobiography is concerned with two characters, a Don Quixote, the Ego, and a Sancho Panza, the Self.

autobiography ego

Of all possible subjects, travel is the most difficult for an artist, as it is the easiest for a journalist.


The aim of education is to induce the largest amount of neurosis that the individual can bear without cracking.


Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.
— Wystan Auden


The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.


Nobody knows what the cause is,
Though some pretend they do;
It's like some hidden assassin
Waiting to strike at you.


Among those whom I like, I can find no common denominator; but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.
— Wystan Auden


The error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

error love

Health is the state about which Medicine has nothing to say; Sanctity is the state about which Theology has nothing to say.
— Wystan Auden


When one looks into the window of a store which sells devotional art objects, one can't help wishing the iconoclasts had won.


Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can: all of them make me laugh.


It takes little talent to see clearly what lies under one's nose, a good deal of it to know in which direction to point that organ.


Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh.
— Wystan Auden


Gossip is the art-form of the man and woman in the street, and the proper subject for gossip, as for all art, is the behavior of mankind.


When I find myself in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes.

poets scientists

What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.
— Wystan Auden


Any one who attempts to translate from one tongue into another will know moods of despair when he feels he is wasting his time upon an impossible task.


To the man-in-the-street, who, I'm sorry to say,
Is a keen observer of life,
The word "Intellectual" suggests straight away
A man who's untrue to his wife.


Each year brings new problems of Form and Content,
new foes to tug with: at twenty I tried to
vex my elders, past Sixty it's the young whom I hope to bother.
— Wystan Auden


A wish is fantastic; it knows what is the case but refuses to accept it.  All wishes, whatever their apparent content, have the same and unvarying meaning: "I refuse to be what I am."


Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods.


Rhymes, meters, stanza forms, etc., are like servants.  If the master is fair enough to win their affection and firm enough to command their respect, the result is an orderly happy household.


A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten.  Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can and swallow them down whole, absent-mindedly and with little relish.
There are some poets, Kipling for example, whose relation to language reminds one of a drill sergeant: the words are taught to wash behind their ears, stand properly at attention and execute complicated maneuvers, but at the cost of never being allowed to think for themselves.