Justify The Statements of W. H. Auden Remark on his Poetry

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      Auden is an Out Standing lecturer Most of the poems of the thirties written by Auden, are pervaded with existing personal and social problems. By 1935 Auden completely gave up frontal attacks on the reader. He became conscious that people can only be told the parables.

      In the earlier poetry, Auden's most frequent exhortation was that the reader should step out of the narrow confines of his ordinary vision for the sake of a detached revaluation of himself and his time. Consider (1930) is a typical poem of this period. The speaker in the poem is the poet himself. He is neither sick nor healthy, but a neutral observer. As an omniscient, he looks down on a sick culture. In the first three sections of the poem, Consider the poet attempts to capture the readers interest in a few ominous and suggestive images of the contemporary social climate. The second section is addressed to Death, the Supreme Antagonist", who has not only led earlier civilizations to self-destruction but also at the present time commands numerous admirers. The third stanza is a direct attack on the reader as of Death's admirers. "Seekers after happiness, all who follow / The convolutions of your simple wish, / It is later than you think."

Auden is an Out Standing lecturer Most of the poems of the thirties written by Auden, are pervaded with existing personal and social problems. By 1935 Auden completely gave up frontal attacks on the reader. He became conscious that people can only be told the parables.
W. H. Auden

      Having cleverly made an impact on the mind of the reader, Auden starts sounding the depths and comes to grip with his subject in the second section of the poem. The 'Supreme Antagonist' which has been interpreted as Death and Satan, is shown at work with the modern world. The 'Supreme Antagonist' has separated man from his surroundings and from the rest of the animal kingdom which has led to the suppression of the natural desires and instincts of man. The rich industrialists and capitalists - the high-born mining captains - have heard the comments of the "Supreme Antagonist and are overcome with a wish to die. They have failed to find an answer to the enigma of the forces of decay which have menacingly be seized their world. There is decay and sickness all around:

You talk to your admirers everyday
By silted harbours, derelict works.
In strangled orchards and a silent comb
Where dogs have wounded or a bird was shot.

      The poem assaults the reader's consciousness in order to sting him, if possible, into some kind of action. Yet no particular course of action is recommended for, the poet say: "Consider and if this is the way things are, something must be done before it is too late."

      Bayley tells us that the 'Supreme Antagonist is the Freudian Death-wish which afflicts Bourgeois civilization and seemingly dooms the 'high born mining-captains' as well as the 'handsome and diseased youngsters' and the female 'solitary agents in the country parishes. There is something melodramatic about Auden's presentation of sick members or capitalist society: one in hardly convinced of the danger or importance of 'ruined boys', brutal farmers or lonely women. So the mysterious rhetoric of doom-to-come also appears both vague and alarmist. There is a journalistic sensationalism about this vision of the Death-Wish, scattering and seizing people, which is most manifest in the description A polar peril', a prestigious alarm - this imitation Beowulf sounds too much like a burlesque of the news paper headline. Freud's cool, prosaic essays on neurotic manifestations have been transformed into News from Nightmare city. Admittedly the unconscious is a tough subject for poetry and Auden is not the only one who has struggle to find a suitable set of metaphors to express it.

Auden as an Anti-Romantic:

      Auden was in belief that art does not have more impact on life: "The frivolity of art is that it cannot have much effect in changing people..."

      Auden developed his parable poetics at least in part as a self-admonition, as a corrective to a tendency in himself to overvalue words as a substitute for deeds.

      In 1948 Auden made what is probably his best-known statement of parable poetics, still conceiving the poem as a tool of self-knowledge for both poet and reader. Auden rejects the "magical" use of poetry as propaganda for any system of values, because to him there is a significant moral difference between doing good like a puppet, and choosing to do good. Describing poetry as a game of knowledge, Auden emphasizes the limited impact of art on moral choice. To Auden the faces of being and becoming are essential terms of human existence that every man needs to be conscious of what he is willing to become. If the parable-maker succeeds in making his reader unforgettably conscious", he has done his job. If this is Auden's theory it is worthwhile to examine briefly his usual practice at different times in his career.

Spain 1937

      In his poem, Spain 1937 Auden insists on the necessity for a decision which will determine the future of an entire civilization. Auden through his poem usually, calls the reader's attention to the symptoms of a prevailing disease.

What is your proposal?
To build the just city? I will.
I agree or is it the suicide pact, the romantic
Death? very well, I accept;
I am your choice your decision; yes I am Spain.

Auden's Conception of Love:

      Auden's number of poems define as to how Love might become the basis for an ethic. He approaches human lives and events sympathetically: "Centuring the eye on their essential human elements: Auden's famous poem In memory of W.B. Yeats and Herman Melville are the sympathetic studies of the human problems. Through these poems, Auden tried to make his reader understand that human beings can transcend their problems at least in the sense of being able to transform suffering into art. Auden believed that "Love" is the answer to dilemmas he sees both in individuals and society.

      Through his poems, Auden has directed his reader's attention more to the problems of the human individuals rather than the collectively human social order. He accepts as a reality the abstract notion of the all-powerful state, "the lie of Authority" when in fact "There is no such thing is the State" or as "Collective Man." At the same time he tries to live by the "romantic lie" or self-love, the crossing to be loved alone", when in fact no one exists alone." The first-lie is the monstrous mechanism of destructive organization. The other - is isolated individual - is self-regarding " crooked'/love Eros which mingles with the "dust" in every man. There is another form of love, not named as such, Agape, universal love, and it is that which the first man can praise and Auden's vocabulary includes the terms 'imperialism' and competitive, though it is significant that his lines on "Collective Man" voice fear rather than left-wing confidence. Auden's views remain Marxist enough to discover similar ladies in the American capitalist system. The New York bar; with its incessant music and electric lights, symbolizes man's retreat from his true metaphysical state, which is likened to being,

Lost in a haunted wood
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

      This diagnosis of the human condition as exhibited in the New York dive, seems to jump rather too eagerly to the general conclusion. That a bar-room in symptomatic of the world at large and in the next stanza Auden re-states an old conviction of his that self-love is "true of the normal heart

For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot love have
Not universal love

      But to be loved alone can save him: "We must love one another or die."

Auden: Negative Knowledge:

      Auden's theory of knowledge is called negative approach. Accordingly to Auden men are separated from God or the Absolute because of various human limitations. No one can define the nature of ultimate reality. We adopt the metaphorical means of negotiation so that the Timeless forces are to be approached. So it is the theory of Negative knowledge. This Negative knowledge is not Time bound. Hence it is called Timeless. This theory of Negative knowledge was adopted by the metaphysical poets whose distinguished exponent was John Donne.

W.H. Auden's Use of Satire:

      Satire is the holding up of human vices to ridicule or attack. Auden has relied on or took refuge to satire while writing poem his audience into real consideration of themselves and their world. Satire helps to hold up a mirror for the reader to see himself or his world more clearly, but he may keep his eyes closed.

      Auden could realize that it was difficult for a modern poet to establish any kind of rapport with his audience. Auden felt something should be done urgently and so draws on three major reservoirs of imagery to bring the point home to his audience. Post Freudian psychology provides him with the terms to particularize and protest the prevailing psychic sickness: "The intolerable neural itch / The exhaustion of weaving, the liar's quinsy / And the distortions of ingrown virginity" Auden has protested against the failure of the social order. The trade mark of his early poem was the landscape of abandoned and rusting machinery.

get there if you can and see
the land you
once were proud too own
though the roads have almost
vanished and
the expresses never run:
Smokeless chimneys, damaged
bridges, rotting
wharves and chocked canals

      In Auden's famous poem Miss Gee the conventional Christian Virtues such as chastity are being parodied. Miss Gee was an orthodox Christian. Her belief in chastity led her to ruin. Had she not believed in chastity as a religious ritual, she would have made love to somebody like any other normal girl, and would have made her life happy and comfortable. This very self-denial of physical desires proved her doom.

      In the lyrical poem Woods Auden comments ironically "on society's prized decorum which has treated woods as the residue of the primitive and dangerously undisciplined. The argument is that woods constitute, not merely on location for bizarre rites or easy seduction, but a concentrated expression of man's basic condition and that a society's attitude towards its trees is a good sign of its health. A culture is not better than in woods"

      Auden's poem In Memory of W.B. Yeasts is an elegy written to mourn the death of W.B. Yeats, but quite differently from conventional elegies. Auden does not glorify Yeats. He goes to the extent of calling him "Silly" and further that his poetry could make nothing happen. "Ireland has her madness and her weather still." Thus Auden reverses the traditional elegiac values and treats them ironically.

Nature, treated by Auden:

      Through the poem, "Bucolics" and The Shield of Achilles Auden most often used nature as an external landscape through which to project the hidden inner character of some human type. In Homage to Clio (1960), however, a few poem present an untransformed nature basically indifferent to human values. Auden seldom depends explicitly on the religious terms that he might be expected to propagandize, and he consistently avoids sermonizing. Therefore, the new note in Auden's poetry at the end of 1950's lies not in a change in his basic didactic poetics, lent in the significantly greater restriction he seems to place on the poetic use of the words for didactic purposes.


      The present world, according to Auden is found wanting as it violates an ideal world of childhood. Men are constantly being detached from God, the heavenly abode and thus involves in the world of crudities and abnormalities. Auden's satire is Byronic in nature because it demands a whole new world. In the new world instead of the well-educated and sensible people, it will be of those innocent who have not been corrupted by education and social conventions. Auden is our distinguished teacher, philosopher and guide.

      In this modern age, we feel the necessity to overcome the critical crisis of the present world. His poems are parables conveying the moral doctrines, Auden in his work rejects the "magical use of poetry as propaganda for any system of values, because to him there is a significant moral difference between doing good like a puppet and choosing to do good.

      The ideal world is the dimension which reveals what the real world is not but should be. Auden consistently rejects the romantic notion that the ideal is attainable, even imaginatively; instead, the ideal is that which we as human should strive after with full knowledge that is not attainable on earth.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Q. 1. Elucidate the statement with reference to Auden's poetry: "If the parable-maker succeeds in making his reader unforgettably conscious, he has done his job." Discuss this statement with reference to Auden's poetry.


"The task of psychology, or act for that matter, is not to tell people how to behave, but by drawing their attention to what the impersonal unconscious is trying to tell them, and by increasing their knowledge of good and evil, to render them better able to choose, to become increasingly, morally responsible for their destiny" (Auden). Substantiate the dictum with reference to Auden's poetry.


Auden's aim of poetry is to convey any moral dogma and feels that it is a function of poetry. Justify the views of Auden giving example from his poetry.


Auden remarks, "you cannot tell people what to do, you can only tell them parables; and that is what art realy is, particular stories of particular people and experiences, from which each according to his immediate and peculiar needs may draw his own conclusions." Discuss this statement of Auden. How would you justify this statement of W.H. Auden.


Auden's poetry is very pragmatical. He wants to convey message by his rich experiences. His poetry is not art for art's sake.

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