W. H. Auden's Attitude Toward Love in his Poetry

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Introduction: Influence of Freud

      Auden is very suspicious about love. Love is a dominating factor throughout his poetry. From his early poems, love is constantly recurring his poetry. But there are radical changes in his views. If we trace the history of love in his poetry, we find two phases. Firstly there was a vagueness and confusion in his views in the early use of, the word love. There was no clarity in his attitude in the early poems. But gradually he started clarifying his views. Hence in the second phase he was suspicious of romantic love. He feels that romantic love had no significance. In other words, self love is romantic love. It is a false love which diverts the attention from reality. Romantic love makes life miserable and does not render any purpose. In fact Auden was influenced by the theory of Freud on Sex. In Victorian age the word love was a taboo but with the advent of twentieth century. Freudian love has been dominating over poetry, novel and drama - in the literary works. Auden frequently gave vent to the views of Freud regarding love. Auden feels love as Eros or libido. Both these psychological terms are pointing to the necessity of love. Erotic instinct is necessary because it brings human beings together. The instinct of Eros that is love enables man to live in this world. Thanatos are death instinct or very harmful. So erotic love makes a person healthy. He gets peace and harmony. Sex energy should be channelized properly. Eradication of Sex means death-wish, ultimately becomes self-destructive and produces neurosis. Suppression of love means to become victim of some disease.

      Here we give the example of Miss Gee who was virgin. She denied sexual gratification and later got inflicted with cancer. According to Freud if the bearing of child is denied, the result is tumor in the womb. These are the views adopted by Auden and he has expressed them in all his poems.

Auden's love poetry is very beneficial. He wants to change the social environment because of love. Sexual education is very important according to Freud. Love should not be. suppressed but it should bring a change in environment and make our society healthy: and inspiring. Social taboos in Victorian era were very harmful. Love was not properly channelized in that age which caused so many social problems. The views of Freud changed the attitude of people. Auden has given a picture of the right social environment and the relation between boys and girls. In the earliest Freudian phase Auden believed that through love the social environment could be changed and social ills remedied.
W. H. Auden

Role of Love in Social Environment:

      Auden's love poetry is very beneficial. He wants to change the social environment because of love. Sexual education is very important according to Freud. Love should not be. suppressed but it should bring a change in environment and make our society healthy: and inspiring. Social taboos in Victorian era were very harmful. Love was not properly channelized in that age which caused so many social problems. The views of Freud changed the attitude of people. Auden has given a picture of the right social environment and the relation between boys and girls. In the earliest Freudian phase Auden believed that through love the social environment could be changed and social ills remedied. Thus in one of his early poems he writes:

...the word is love.
Surely one fearless kiss would cure
The million fevers, a stroking brush
The insensitive refuse from the burning core
Was there a dragon who had closed the works
While the starved city fed it with the Jews?
Then love would tame it with his trainer's look.

      To Auden, love was a form of mental therapy which has a healing power and thus plays a definite and positive role in modern society. Love with vigorous determined action can only bring about the change in the environment and can totally obscure the social evils. Men is at liberty to act to choose, to control.

      Yours is the choice to whom the gods awarded
The language of learning and the language of love,
Crooked to move as a moneybag or a cancer or straight as a dove.

Interpretation of universal love (Agape):

      By 1940, Auden's concept of love widened into the Christian concept of love. It became Agape, or universal love. This concept of love has been introduced to fill a vacuum which neither Marxism nor Freudianism could fill. It is much more a profound concept than of Freud and Marx which can give a, sort of harmony to the separate and incomplete concept of Freud and Marx. Love the one thing needful, that it is there, that it needs to be sought with care and when found nourished and developed. To quote Auden: 

....Love finally is great, Greater than all; but larger than hate, Far large than man can ever estimate.

      This universal love should not be subdued by self-regard. Self regard is a bar, a hindrance to the growth of relationship that nourishes love. Only with extreme difficulty can there be any moving out to a relationship, any submission of the ego in friendship. This central awareness that stems from the Christian tradition gradually assumed supreme importance.

      Love should be developed at the prospect of building the city where "the will of love is done", and where "grace may grow outward and be given praise / beauty and virtue be vivid there."

Real or True Love: Its False Form

      In the American or Christian phase Auden probes into deep nature of love. To quote Hoggart, "Today Auden continually enquires into both the severe requirements of love and into its false forms - and especially into those false forms which hide a wish to escape from the responsibilities of love. We have to love inspite of our personal wish:"

We are required to love
All homeless objects that require a world
Our claim to our own bodies and world
Is our catastrophe what can we know but panic and caprice until we know our dreadful appetite demands a world whose order, origin and world purpose will be fluent satisfaction of our will.

      To love is difficult since we can all love what we already find pleasant. To love the things unpleasant, is a tough job. This often makes love escapist or to abandon our circle or society. So it is quite irrelevant to think there is any pleasure or enjoyment in obeying or loving neighbour or oneself. Then only true love is possible.

True Love: Extraordinarily Difficult:

       As true love is extraordinarily difficult, we should learn first of all to love. As the poet says in the following verses-

O let none say I love until aware what huge resources it will take to nurse.

      One ruining speck, one tiny hair that casts a shadow through the universe. We are all alone yet never really alone. This is the love of god of which Owen is a reflection and from which it gains strength:

"...behind pray ours
That love, to whom necessity is play, what we must yet cannot do alone."

      The moment of love is the moment of being. Our earthly communities will remain inadequate unless informed by love; we are therefore to seek a society whose form is truth, whose content is love, and that can only grow, "where Freedom dwells because it must / necessity because it can and man is confederated to man." Auden says that we must love one another or die:

We are reduced to our true nakedness.
Either we serve the unconditional,
Or some Htitleriam monster will supply.
An iron convention to do evil by.

      As we are all children of God, we should love. More times confirm the growth of the idea of love. We should love lest worse befall.

Conclusion:

      Auden's concept of love has wider significance based on the dogmas of Christianity. He is not in favour of Platonic love, that the glorification of love. Platonic love is unrealistic. According to modern psychologists, it involves so many complications. The principle of unfulfilled urges is very detrimental. He was the follower of the Freudian theory of sex.

      Secondly, the poet is stressing on solving the overwhelming problems of modern life. This type of love is also a blessing in disguise. According to Christianity, love gives noble sentiments which should be cherished. Hence we create the mutual understanding with the Almighty father. So on earth noble sentiments of love are sublime. In psychological term it is called Agape which implies suffering in and sacrifice. It is against self-fulfillment which gives temporary relief. But we should have perpetual attachment with our partner. So love is the highest goal of human life. In this way, Auden has travelled a long way from his earliest concept of love as Eros. So Agape or universal love is the nucleus of Auden's concept of love.

      Auden has stressed on the theory of Freud's sex. It is not a perverse sex. He feels sex may be sublimated. It can change the destiny of a young person who becomes an artist, dancer, critic, and so on. So proper chanelization is extremely, necessary.

Highlights:

      (i) In the first stage Auden was stressing on Eros. He degenerates into the god of sensual love. His worship was very popular. It is against the theory of sex psychology, which is called Thanatos, which is death wish or destructive instinct.

      (ii) In the other stage of love Auden stresses on the theory of Agape. Agape may be defined as a love-feast or common meal of fellowship originating among the Carlier Christians and including prayers, songs, the reading of scriptures and offerings for the poor. It is a spontaneous self-giving love expressed freely without calculation of cost or gain to the giver or merit on the, part of the receiver, or the love of god for man. Logos is the reason or manifestation of reason conceived in ancient Greek philosophy as constituting the controlling principle in the universe. It is the actively expressed revelatory thought and will of God identified in the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John and in various Christian doctrinal works with the second person of the Trinity. Language being peculiar to man as a reasonable being, and speech presupposing thought, Logos signifies reason, the faculty of thinking in general.

      (iii) In On this Island there is a fairly consistent distinction between Eros, now seen as selfish, crooked and bad, and love which is unselfish and social, not natural but the result of effort and discipline. Generally however, the unselfish love contrasted with Eros and set forth as an ideal has no religious associations; it is secular, produces social consciousness, aims at the "really better world" to be achieved through political action. It is emphatically distinct from sexual love, which is an illusory "whisper in the double bed," a form of isolation and selfish escape.

      (iv) In The Double Man and In another Time Auden carries further the tendency seen in On this Island to reverse the "pure in heart concept in the direction of orthodoxy: nobody is pure in heart, because the law of our own nature is corrupt. Eros being selfish, tends toward evil. Since Auden during this period is entertaining various ideas as possible, however, the concepts symbolized and the relations between them are inconsistent and shifting. There is frequently a contrast between selfish and unselfish love, foreshadowing the clear distinction between Eros and Agape. The political myth of Eros is seductive. According to Auden only Christianity can resolve our difficulties; "only love has weight in this 'modern void,' but though Agape can save us, it is an end, not a means."

      (v) Eros, denying Agape, caused the fall. For The time Being employs the three symbols extensively. The title indicates a central theme of a poetry from 1940 on to live in the present; "The Time Being" to redeem from insignificance," to refrain from seeking escape in the past or future or some great suffering, and instead to try to manifest Agape in the everyday world, the most difficult task.

      (vi) The modern secular equivalent of the early Christian love (Agape) as been described realistically through the "Love Feast" in Nones. The kind of love exhibited at the party is contrasted throughout with Agape.

      (vii) To sum up, Auden's concept of love is that he has rejected the romantic motions of love. Eros is Carnal or romantic love, which is not innate in the cosmic process. Romantic love is the denial of the value of flesh and world and promotes the tendency to life after death. But gape, does not reject any aspect of life. If affirms the values of life, flesh, and of this world.

      It believes in the doctrine of Incarnation. Agape teaches us to love any individual. It asserts the value of the individual as individual. The symbol of Eros is sex, of Agape the feast. Feast or a Dinner party is an act of love. Nones celebrates the feast of Christ before crucifixion. According to Auden Agape is the freest act of an individual. It is a love for sacrifice not for fulfilment, a long for suffering not for realisation.

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