Letter to a Wound

Auden, W.

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Stanford, Ann Folwell
  • Date of entry: Oct-17-1996
  • Last revised: Aug-30-2006


Although the title suggests a letter, this prose poem is written more as a dramatic monologue. The speaker speaks to his wound ("my dear") as though it were a jealous lover. Written some 18 months after a diagnosis (which is left unclear), the poem allows the speaker to think back over the time, reflecting on "what a great change has come over us recently", meaning a new kind of maturity, of empathy, brought about by the speaker’s suffering. The "letter" ends with the speaker’s remark to his wound: "The surgeon was dead right. Nothing will ever part us. Good-night and God bless you, my dear. / Better burn this."


Here is a poem that calls itself a letter (to a wound) and is written in the tone of a chastised lover to his jealous and overbearing partner. Auden’s poem is part four of a piece called "The Initiates" which is part of a long work, The Orators (1931). Sections of Orators are included in the Collected Poems in 1945. In these selections, the "orators" are all isolated as they attempt to communicate.

This particular poem is useful in the context of a broader discussion of pain’s isolating and totalizing effects. In this letter that circles back to the writer, and thus goes nowhere, readers can contemplate how pain, for many, functions much as a jealous lover, creating a closed system into which none can enter but the sufferer. As Auden says in Surgical Ward (see this database), pain is the place where "each is living," becoming for the sufferer, a complete world in itself.

Primary Source

The Collected Poems of W. H. Auden


Random House

Place Published

Kingsport, Tenn.