Poet Wystan Hugh Auden arrived in New York City in 1939. After stints at the George Washington Hotel on East 23rd Street and in Brooklyn Heights, he and companion Chester Kallman settled into a second-floor apartment in an unremarkable tenement at 77 St. Marks Place.
They lived here from 1953 to 1972, a year before Auden’s death at 66.
Auden in his St. Marks Place digs. Hannah Arendt reportedly described his living quarters this way: “His slum apartment was so cold that the toilet no longer functioned and he had to use the toilet in the liquor store at the corner.” The building now houses a restaurant, La Palapa.
Auden may have been British by birth, but some of his poems referenced New York. “September 1, 1939” starts: “I sit in one of the dives/on Fifty-Second Street/Uncertain and afraid/As the clever hopes expire/of a low dishonest decade.”
Another, from 1947, is titled “In Schrafft’s,” the name of the chain of ice cream parlor/restaurants that dotted the city until the 1970s. It begins: “Having finished the Blue plate Special/And reached the coffee stage/Stirring her cup she sat/A somewhat shapeless figure/Of indeterminate age/In an undistinguished hat.”