W. H. Auden Was a Messy Roommate

From The Paris Review:

W. H. Auden had rented variously inadequate apartments since arriving back in New York at the end of the summer of 1945, and had most recently been living with Chester Kallman in a warehouse building on Seventh Avenue, an especially unsatisfactory place that lacked both hot water and a functional front door. So when he and Kallman moved to 77 Saint Mark’s Place on the Lower East Side, in February 1954, it promised to be a significant improvement; and he was certainly very pleased with the place from the start—“my N.Y. nest,” he called it. Auden would stay there until his ill-fated departure for Oxford in 1972, making it his longest single habitation. From 1949 he summered in Europe—in Ischia until 1957, when he bought a small farmhouse in Kirchstetten in Austria, which delighted him: he devoted a sequence, “Thanksgiving for a Habitat,” in his collection About the House (1965), to a celebration of his domestic existence there. It was in these summerhouses that he tended to write poems: New York was largely for his distinct life as a “man of letters,” a label he applied to himself. “It is a sad fact about our culture,” he once wrote, “that a poet can earn much more money writing or talking about his art than he can by practicing it”; but at the same time he prided himself on his professionalism as a reviewer, essayist, anthologist, and commentator, work that in turn often suggested subjects for poems; and that work principally happened on Saint Mark’s.

Freshly installed, he excitedly invited round his young friend Charles Miller (“Come! I’ll take you on a tour”):

The large first (entry) room with high ceiling had a green marbled fireplace flanked by built-in bookshelves, which also incorporated Wystan’s battered turntable with speaker equipment and his much-used collection of records and albums. A big shabby sofa and a swamped antique coffee table centered the cluttered room. I followed Wystan through an arch into a similar room at the front with another green marbled fireplace. This room was hardly furnished, except for built-in bookcases and Wystan’s small work table just touched by sunlight from the generous nineteenth-century windows. To the right of this room, as we faced Saint Mark’s Place, was a small room with its door to the stair hall nailed shut; the room had only a cot bed, on which Wystan slept, he said.

Just touched by sunlight, one imagines: as an undergraduate at Oxford, Auden had preferred to keep his curtains drawn at all times, and he seems to have adopted the same policy in America. When Stephen Spender had visited him in the forties he unwisely attempted to open the curtains and brought them crashing to the ground: “You idiot!” Auden scolded him, “why did you draw them? No one ever draws them. In any case there’s no daylight in New York.” Wystan’s succession of rooms gave his friend Margaret Gardiner “the sensation of brownish caverns, a brown that seemed to pervade everything, even the air itself.”

. . . .

But his evident pride in the place did not translate into any instincts to be house-proud, as Miller’s retrospective account, despite its touches of fine writing, communicates well enough:

The coffee table bore its household harvest of books, periodicals, half-emptied coffee cups scummed over with cream, a dash of cigarette ashes for good measure, and a heel of French bread (too tough for Wystan’s new dentures?). An oval platter served as ashtray, heaped with a homey Vesuvius of cigarette butts, ashes, bits of cellophane from discarded packs, a few martini-soaked olive pits, and a final cigarette stub issuing a frail plume of smoke from the top of the heap, signature of a dying volcano. This Auden-scape reeked of stale coffee grounds, tarry nicotine, and toe jam mixed with metro pollution and catshit, Wystanified tenement tang.

And this was his new flat. “The speed with which he could wreck a room was barely credible, certainly dangerous,” observed his friend James Stern. He spoke from experience. On one occasion he had left Auden in his flat for the day, dropping back shortly afterward to pick something up: “If it hadn’t been for the pictures on the walls I wouldn’t have known where I was,” Stern remembered: “Frustrated burglars could not have created greater chaos … God, Wystan, was a mess! ‘My dear, I do love this apartment, but I can’t understand why it doesn’t have more ashtrays!’ ” 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Parts of the OP remind PG of various of his abodes prior the salutary entrance of Mrs. PG into his life.