The Poems of W H Auden Essay Example
The poetry of W. H. Auden is by no means extraordinarily complex or hard to understand, but often an in-depth discussion of a poem can bring to light meanings or qualities a reader may have otherwise overlooked.
One may even find a common thread running through a group of poems, such as in this one.In this particular set, the common theme running through all the poems is a message to the effect that one should enjoy life, because after all, placid ordinary existence is far more important in the long run than extraordinary troubles, worries, and problems that may appear. The first poem, "The Secret Agent", illustrates the example of a tired, abandoned spy who indulges in life's simple pleasures during the time that is left to him. From the first...
stanza we can see that the spy has probably been sent on a mission but no backup forces have been sent to help him and he is stranded in enemy territory ("but who would get it? line 2).The second stanza details how the spy recommends building a dam and a power station in the area, but his government apparently has not bothered to extend the railroad ("pushed the rail", line 6) far enough for this to happen. Finally, in the third stanza, we see that the spy, realizing he will soon be captured by the enemy, has decided to take up residence in the town near the desert which was his hiding place during his mission ("The street music .
.. weeks up in the desert", lines 9-10).Near the end of the stanza, it is seen that while he was in the desert, he often
felt lonely and wished for a friend, and that when the enemy finally takes him, he will be parted from the companion he never had.
Here, the narrator is insinuating that the spy's mission is no longer important at all, and that in fact it never really was, in the grand scheme of things. Another poem, titled only "V", but distinguishable from other similarly titled poems by the fact that it is in a collection called "Five Poems", denounces caution and care in a more abstract way than in the previous poem.In each of the first three stanzas, a passive, worrying observer expresses astonishment at the boldness of an active, more carefree person ("reader"-"rider", "fearer"-"farer", "horror"-"hearer"). Horror, here appears to refer to a person who entertains a horror, and not the actual horror. In the last stanza, the three active characters retort in various ways to the passive characters, signifying that only if one worries about such things will they affect one. The third poem, "O What Is That Sound", shows how a person who is always overanxious ends up in trouble, whereas a calm person will be just fine.
During the first eight stanzas, the first two lines of each stanza are spoken by one person, and the last two lines are spoken by a second person. As the poem progresses, the first person gets more and more agitated about the soldiers who appear to be approaching. Meanwhile the second person stays calm, and, in the eighth stanza, gets up and leaves the first person. The first person remains, in an agony of consternation, and witnesses the soldiers breaking into the house in the last
Thus, by the end, the calm person is once again safe and the worried one is not. Throughout the first stanza, the narrator repeats this theme several times ("... it [suffering] takes place / while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along", lines 3-4; "..
. when the aged are waiting ...
/ for the miraculous birth, there must always be / children who did not specially want it to happen, skating / on a pond at the edge of the wood", lines 5-8).During the second stanza, there are many references to Icarus, the boy who, in the Greek legend, used wax wings to fly, but flew too close to the sun, fell dramatically into the sea, and drowned - especially the fact that nobody was really affected deeply by this event ("... everything turns away / quite leisurely from the disaster", lines 14-15). Clearly, the narrator is teaching us the same basic lesson as in the other three poems.
Throughout these four poems, the common moral that worrisome problems and, more importantly, worrying about such, are not important as a part of life in general, can be seen after some thought.W. H. Auden was one of the most noteworthy poets of the English language during the 20th century, and for good reason.
He had very strong values as to what his poems could contain, and even once denounced one of his most famous poems for being untrue to his real beliefs (he believed that the narrator of a poem should reflect the ideas of the poet and never contradict them). But also, it seems, two major values prominent
in his life also manifested themselves in his poetry. The first value was logic. Wystan Hugh Auden was born the son of Dr. George Auden and Constance Bicknell Auden on February 21, 1907 in York, England. His father, being a doctor and biologist, as well as his uncle Harry, an industrial chemist, both influenced his early choice of the physical sciences as his desired career (Johnson 21).
Though he later changed his college major to English and literature, he always retained a love of the logical and precise, which crossed over to his poetry and the way that he tended to often use older, more strict forms than those commonly used at the time, such as the sonnet and the villanelle.For instance, in the poems "Five Songs - V" and "O What Is That Sound", Auden uses a strict pattern. In "V", it is that the first three stanzas are almost identical in form, whereas the first three lines in the last stanza are reflections or responses to the first three stanzas, and the last line is a sort of capstone to the poem. In "O What Is That Sound" it is the obvious identicality in form of all the stanzas, and even that in voice, except for the last stanza. The second value was the sense of the odd, especially when juxtaposed with the normal.
This applied both to the form and content of his poems. For example, in "O What Is That Sound", the first person speaking (in the first two lines of each stanza) seems normal, and afraid of the soldiers, whereas the second person remains perfectly calm and then leaves at the
last moment. The soldiers in themselves are rather odd, because the reader is never told why exactly they are attacking the narrators. Says Brophy, "Auden's opening lines ..
. frequently incorporate some touch of the 'peculiar' such as 'What's in your mind, my love, my coney' from an Auden 'Song' of 1933. " (Brophy 13-14).This tendency apparently descends from Auden's own personal disparities and the first value mentioned above - when asked by an exasperated friend "Can't you keep any sort of order in your life? " (since Auden lived in a very messy apartment), he told them that all the order in his life was in his poetry, hence the juxtaposition of odd and normal. In this way, by embracing both logic and paradoxical thinking, Auden managed to write both very self-assured and very popular poetry.
Perhaps it was through this expansive approach to thought that he could embrace such a wide audience.
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