Lullaby: by W. H. Auden || Summary and Analysis

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Introduction:

      Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love was later entitled Lullaby. It is one of the best known lyrics of Auden. It was first published in New writing, Spring 1937 and later included in the Collected Shorter Poems, 1950.

      The central theme of the poem is about the faithlessness of modern love. The situation of love has been so delicately rendered that it becomes an illusion of love. The poem is in the form of a dramatic monologue in which the lover addresses himself to his beloved who is lost in 'swoon after the consumination of their love. The story of Cinderella symbolically illustrates the theme of love in this poem. As the charm or magic, in the case of Cindrella, was to last only till midnight, so is the condition of the charm of modern love which is limited only upto the satisfaction of carnal desires till midnight. Auden's concept or love once again has been brought into focus through Eros, Agape and Logos.

Auden begins the poem Lullaby at a delicate point when the lovers had just had the fullest realisation of the bliss of their physical and consequently spiritual communion the oneness of the body and soul. The lover in the poem accepts the limitation of the human character and flesh.
Lullaby

Summary

      Auden begins the poem Lullaby at a delicate point when the lovers had just had the fullest realisation of the bliss of their physical and consequently spiritual communion the oneness of the body and soul. The lover in the poem accepts the limitation of the human character and flesh. And having accepted it, he proceeds to describe his amorous experience with an attitude of tolerance. He acknowledges the fact of human infidelity:

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm.

      As a matter of fact, all things human decay and die. Even the charms of children end with the passing of time. Disease, old age and death are the only permanent and universal fact of the human condition. Their love, too, is subject to this decay and death, and the realistic lover recognises this. The poet emphasises the transitoriness of human life and physical love. Though the lover knows that her beloved is mortal, is a guilty soul and his love for her is only for one night, the lover wants her beloved to lie in her arms till the break ot the day.

      In the last two stanzas of the lyric Auden points out that satisfaction of carnal passions brings with it satiety. The lovers have to pay the full price in terms of suffering. In the morning all their visions of love and beauty come to an end. They will grow entirely indifferent to each other. The fountain of love will dry up in their hearts, and they will become spiritually wretched and miserable. Auden suggests ony one cure for this spiritual and emotional dryness. No doubt their love for each other will come to an end, but stil they have a beautiful world to live in. They should accept it as a greet blessing and thank God for it. Then fountains of love will flow out of their hearts for God who has blessed them in this way. Just as Venus inspires sexual love, so God will inspire them with spiritual love, and with love for all God's creatures. It can be said in this way the Eros should be transformed into Agape, universal love and charity. Such spiritual love is a great healer. It alone can protect them from the insult, cares and worries of the world. In the last stanza that the impression of the lover's experience being an illusion or something like an illusion seems to be established. And here the lover seems to utter something which sounds like a prayer, a deep wish coming from the depths of his heart. It is an expression of Auden's philosophy of love.

      In the fourth stanza the poet says that with the passage of midnight, the dream of beauty and love will also come to an end as that of Cinderella. A similar passion may be felt later by similar persons who have 'knocking heart'. In other words there is nothing like "certainty" and "fidelity" in physical love, and the faithlessness in love has become the order of the day in modern times. But the lover and the beloved would soon be fed up with this physicality of love and would find this mortal, transitory love dry enough. The dreams of eternal love vanish in the final stanza.

Critical Appreciation

      The poem's philosophical thinking takes us to the fact that since love makes life blessed, and since free choice alone makes love possible and men imperfect, free choice and imperfection are blessed as well. Human love, necessarily faithless and flawed, nevertheless remains a joy. Though ever imperfect, life is blessed, and the speaker asks for his beloved the greatest gift men can receive - the mortal world itself.

      To quote John Fuller: "... perhaps the most well-known of Auden's lyrics, achieves the beauty of its effect by the way in which the moment of happiness is weighed gravely and consciously against an awareness of all that can threaten it. The delicately hinted rhymes, the harmony between the musical line and the extended statement, and the careful epithets all these reinforce the poem's gravity. The second stanza proposes that on the one hand Eros can lead to Agape, and on the other that 'abstract insight' can induce Eros: the lover and the desert saint are closer than they might appear. The parallelism reappears in the first stanza, where the two extreme states are guarded by the types of love they can induce. One may object that love is not convincingly present in the poem, and certainly the Dreaming head of the opening stanza moves nearer to being a stage property than its appearance in the first stanza, but the poem is rightly considered one of Auden's greatest achievement in the genre."

      When the union of the lovers has expired, they hope to Find the mortal world enough. This line seems to sum up the main idea of the poem. Just as the lovers had accepted the limitations of the humana flesh and character and passing of fidelity 'on the stroke of midnight', they may find the world acceptable and their love may still be sustained through providence - 'involuntary powers'. Eros (physical love) may be converted into Agape, the physical and the mundane may transcend into the divine, human limitations may be upheld. The lyric is weighty with thought, and so different from the conventional lyrics.

      When the union of the lovers has expired, they hope to 'Find the mortal world enough'. This line seems to sum up the main idea of the poem. Just as the lovers had accepted the limitations of human flesh and character and passing of fidelity on the stroke of midnight, they may find the world acceptable and their love may still be sustained through providence - 'invountary powers'. Eros (physical love) may be converted into Agape. The physical and the mundane may transcend into the divine. Human limitations may be upheld and redeemed by universal and divine love.

      It might be argued that in his love poems Auden centres into a more sensuous awareness of his own existence and that of others than his usual diagnosis of the human behaviour. But it is here precise that the peculiar absence of his own personality and his unawareness of other existences acquire pathos. This is his most justly famous love poem with such beauty of lyric movement that readers do not perhaps look at it closely.

Conclusion:

      Auden's poem Lay Your Sleeping Head My Love is a magnificent account of the poet's concept of love. The carnal love is transformed into a spiritual union, a source of mystical bliss such as the hermit experiences in moments of mystic union with God. There is thus no essential difference between the ecstasy of the lovers and the hermit in deep mediation in rocks and glaciers. The physical is thus transformed into the spiritual and, in the words of John Donne, lovers become, 'saints of love'. Carnal love, therefore, is not to be condemned. In its own way, it is as much a union of souls, as much the result of supernatural inspiration, as the experience of the mystic, and a source of as great a bliss.

      This particular lyric is full of thought. Though it is quite different from the conventional lyrics, still is has the simplicity of a true lyric.

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