When WH Auden Helped Dorothy Day

Edward Mendelson, WH Auden’s executor, offers this anecdote in his article “The Secret Auden”:

At times, he went out of his way to seem selfish while doing something selfless. When NBC Television was producing a broadcast of The Magic Flute for which Auden, together with Chester Kallman, had translated the libretto, he stormed into the producer’s office demanding to be paid immediately, instead of on the date specified in his contract. He waited there, making himself unpleasant, until a check finally arrived. A few weeks later, when the canceled check came back to NBC, someone noticed that he had endorsed it, “Pay to the order of Dorothy Day.” The New York City Fire Department had recently ordered Day to make costly repairs to the homeless shelter she managed for the Catholic Worker Movement, and the shelter would have been shut down had she failed to come up with the money.

The article has many other examples of Auden’s secretive works of mercy.

Remember, it was Auden who said, “We are all here on earth to help others. What the others are here for, I don’t know.”

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Maggie Goff

    Oh, do I love that last quote!!

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    LOLOLOL!!! I love that quote too. Thanks.

  • Timothy Baker

    Hi Thomas, I think this is an excellent example of Day doing very good work (with a little help from a friend). But, overall, I’m not a fan of hers and can’t understand why Cardinal Dolan and others support her canonization. What is your opinion of Day and the possibility of a St. Dorothy Day?

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    I don’t know enough about her to make any kind of personal or moral judgment, but I trust the process. I’ve never read her and and only the know the basics of her life and work, but I know many fine people who think highly of her. Her service to those in need was admirable. Whether it’s an indication of sanctity is something for others to decide.

  • Steve Schuler

    As it happens, that’s not the whole story. When Auden found Day at the entrance to the shelter, she thought he was a bum out panhandling. He mumbled to her, “here’s two-fifty,” put the check in her hand, and walked away. At first, she thought he had given her a donation of $2.50 until she looked at the check, which was for $250. (You can find this in Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of Auden.)

    As for the quote about helping others, Auden was fond of repeating it, but it’s not original to him. He cribbed that from a popular stand-up comedy routine that was making its rounds in New York when he lived there.

  • http://www.godandthemachine.com/ Thomas L. McDonald

    Thanks for that. I’d never read the Carpenter bio, but I enjoyed his Tolkien bio and may look it up. I only know the surface story about Auden’s life and his rather complex views on faith, but I enjoy much of his writing.


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