Mundus Et Infans: by Aiden || Summary and Analysis

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Introduction:

      Auden's Mundus Et Infans was first published in commonwealth (commonwealth) 1940. It was included in the Collected Shorter Poems. Auden has borrowed the title of the poem from an early sixteen-century play. The poem is built on a contrast on the child's ability to exist without any shame on an entirely physical plane, and the grown-ups sense of shame, at their physical appetites and impulses, with a consequent resort to hypocrisy and falsehood. There is a kind of mock-heroic effect in addressing the baby in terms of high-flown rhetoric, while at the same time the style remains colloquial. The poem has a mixed style-colloquial, humorously inflated, half-serious and ironical. But Auden's observations about nature are most seriously intended in political, historical, psychological and economic terms. Auden deals with the birth and behaviour of the child in a seemingly serious vein. The child is born after kicking against the womb of his mother whose role in the New order is to supply him with food and milk, the raw materials. The child promises to be quiet on the assurance of his food and proper attention.

      The child, described in the poem, is completely subjective, completely shameless, which signifies that we have not learnt the technique of existing without shame that we had as babies, so that now only a saint is comparable with a baby as "someone who does not lie".

      The deadly irony underlying in the poem is that our authorities both in the political and religions fields are big babies. They behave childishly and to not realize the reality around them.

      The key word in the poem is solipsism (self-existence). The child is not able to see the difference between 'I', 'You', and 'They'. He believes only in 'I', in being selfish and self-centred, and disregards the society around him. So is the case with our rulers, politicians, tyrants, saints and priests. Auden has repeatedly made the point that man's greatest enemy is Eros, but we need Agape to redeem ourselves and the world.

Auden's Mundus Et Infans was first published in commonwealth (commonwealth) 1940. It was included in the Collected Shorter Poems. Auden has borrowed the title of the poem from an early sixteen-century play.
Mundus Et Infans

Summary

      W. H. Auden in the poem Mundus Et Infans speaks of the birth of the child is spoken of as a release of his soul from the prison of the womb, and he recurs this release by giving violent kicks to his mother. This exercise gives him healthy appetite, and like a tyrant he orders that enough 'raw material' i.e milk, should be supplied to him free, otherwise the mother would be held responsible and punished accordingly. The child demanded due attention and otherwise peace will be broken and there shall be war and destruction. The child is like a tyrant ruler threatening his colonies with dire results.

Stanza-1
      The child is being presented as a great dictator, whose words orders the things and wants then to be supplied to him. The word 'New Order' has been parodied here. The 'New Order' for the child is the national politics and the public relations. As the child demands the material, he also warns his mother about the shortage. He says his mother would be responsible for non-availability of 'raw material'. His mother also promises to show him all the care and respect that befits his age. The child is being presented here as a great dictator. He is made into a mature man who deserves all the attention and respect in the social order.

Stanza-2
      In the second stanza the child or the tyrant is being compared with a man-eating giant. The child sleeps after eating like the man-eating giant, "with one fist clenched behind his head, heel drawn up to thigh". He is ready to fight with the world if the world does not feed him according to his demand. He has resolved to become a dictator to fight tyranny in the world with all the forces at his command. It is quite ironical to see a tyrant fighting tyranny.

Stanza-3
      The thought of the child is told in the third stanza. The child here says that he is not a solipsist. A child or tyrant does not believe in individual identities. Individual means nothing to him. The distinction between his individual self and the society is not a matter of logic but taste. For the child reasons are meant to satisfy physical desires. His thinking is regulated by his desires or likings. Both the elephant and a funny race are equally dear to him, for they both give him pleasure. He entirely lives on a physical plane. Gratification of his senses is all he desires. He is not concerned with any higher intellectual or spiritual life.

Stanza-4
      His life is of sensual gratification, he does never lie, like the grown up people. He is like a saint in this respect, a very rare individual in the modern world. The 'hypocrisy' and 'lying' of the grown-ups is constrained with his innocence and truthfulness.

      The child always lives in present. He has no memories of the past and no hope in the future. Both the saint and the child is illogical and emotional.

      The people of this modern age is helpless, restless and joyless animals. There is no presence of 'Agape' which uplifts one's mind from his self centeredness and enhances his spiritual conscience.

Stanza-5
      In the fifth stanza the poet says that a child is loved for his subjective activities. The child is not at all affected by what is happening outside, since he is concerned with his own selfish physical desires. Society should try to overcome a misfortune. People blame history, banks or weather to suppress their inefficiency. But this beast, this child, this tyrant exists without shame. He is totally unaffected by what is happening outside. The poet has all admiration for his innocence and honesty. The poet also says that the truthfulness of the child is to be learnt by the grown-ups.

Stanza-6
      The child as Auden continues to depict in this stanza is only concerned with his physical needs. He knows only foods and his shouts are only for the fulfilment of his physical needs. We only hope that he will become mature and would not become an important personage. The poet prays and hopes that he child will ever remain as innocent and truthful as he is to-day. The Innocent children will not grow into distorted individuals, but will have normal, healthy, personalities. It is possible only when Eros is replaced by 'Agape' or universal love. Innocent children will not grow into distorted individuals, but will have normal, healthy, personalities, by this replacement.

Stanza-7
      The poet in this stanza says that if tyrants like Hitler or the capitalistic society, destroys the world, there would be nothing, surprising, when the child bawls the house down, we should not be sorry for this is his right. Every human being should be above both the tyrants and capitalistic society. Auden poses the ironic question before us that we have not yet been able to distinguish between 'Eros' and 'Agape'. The poet says that we shall never know any distinction between the choices that we make while exercising our liberty. We have never learnt to distinguish between hunger the physical love and the selfish love.

Critical Appreciation

      The poem Mundus Et Infans is a sharp contrast between the world and infanthood. The child's only concern is to get material to satisfy his hunger. The developed countries like America, England, Germany etc. are fighting for the "Raw material".

      Raw material is the basis of the modern capitalist economy. Here lies the evil of modern civilization.

      The poem is an excellent example of Auden's command over the genre of comic verse. Auden deals with the birth and behaviour of the child in a serious tone. The child very adamantly promises to be quiet on the assurance of his food and proper attention. The poem really owes its Charm to the incongruity between the subject and its treatment. The child is treated as an important being, a giant capable of destroying the world at whim. To bring the comic effect Auden elevates the subject of the poem by profound utterances:

A pantheist not a solipsist, he cooperates
With universe of large and noisy feelings-states
Therefore we love him because his judgements are so
Frankly subjective that his abuse carries no
Personal sting...
but this beast
Dares to exist without shame.

      Auden very skilfully employs his words to sustain the element of incongruity. This incongruity is the mainspring of the humourous presentation of the child-hero of the poem:

To take on the rest
Of world at the drop of a hat or the mildest
Nudge of the impossible
Still, his land iniquity is still what only the
Greatest saints become...
So of course we ought to be glad
When he bawls the house down.

      Auden manages to bring home his message that the ultimate hope for man lies in knowing the distinction between the selfish love and the Christian selfless love. And so long as man does not know it, he is no better than a child. Lack of selfless love breeds cruel tyrants.

      The child and so also the tyrant, believes in 'I'. He is not conscious of You (the society, the individuals). His is a world based on Eros, and not on 'Agape'. The present political and economic system is a form of tyranny. Religion is another form of tyranny.

      The main interest of the poet as well as of readers is in the depiction of the human attitude. And these attitudes are always instinctive and individual, or schooled by any intellectual process or by theories of what should be done.

      The main interest of the poet as well as of readers is in the depiction of the human attitude which are always instinctive and individualistic, not schooled by any intellectual process or by theories of what should be done. The theme of the poem is frankly adolescent, but the centre of the imagery and emotion is the childhood experience. The poem a vision of the child is at once natural and passionate.

      In the poem there is a contrast between the innocence and truthfulness of a child and the lying or 'hypocrisy' of the grown-ups.

      Continuing with the contrast, the poet says that the grown-ups try to escape from unpleasant reality in various ways, as, for example, romantic love or religion. They blame history, weather or blanks for their own deficiencies, and shortcomings. But the child is quite content to live on the physical plane. To quote Justin Raplogle, "The basic incougruity here is between the infant subject and adult language used to describe him. The most important words in the infant description come from widely scattered special-usage contexts, and vary considerably in solemnity level."

For example, Soul (theology, highly solemn)
Role (social psychology, solemn)
New order (National politics or political, solemn)
Supply and delivery, raw materials (economics, solemn)
Shortage (economies, Journalism; solemn)
Dictated peace (military, journalism; solemn)
Cocky little Ogre (parental colloquialism; mock distaste, affectionate joking)
Take on the rest of the world (slang, humorous banter)
Drop of a bat (very stale middle brow cliche, now probably always humorous)

      The above mentioned are the examples of the use of solemn diction: 'Soul' is a word taken from theology, which is highly solemn: Healthy appetite is a parental clinch, used almost exclusively for bragging about robust children: usually mock-solemn. The 'role' (of the mother) is a word taken from social psychology. In the context of the poem it is an upper-middle class cliche; hence a very solemn use of the word. 'New order' refers to national politics or political journalism and public relations, or Christian religion, which is, of course, a very serious subject. Supply and deliver raw materials, and 'shortage' are terms from economics. 'Held responsible' is again a middle class cliche. 'Dictated peace' is military term, hence very solemn.

      'Cocky little Ogre' is an example of parental colloquialism, and affectionate joking. An example of the slang and humorous use of the diction can be seen in 'take on the rest of the world'. The phrase, 'drop off a bat', is very tried middlebrow cliche, now probably always humorous. The usage of these notations make the whole poem a jargon.

Conclusion:

      Auden's poem Mundus Et Infans contains a particularly nice display of incongruous diction from specialized usage areas. The incongruity that lie on the basis of the poem is between the infant subject and the adult language used to describe him.

      The most important thing is that the poem presents a sharp contrast between the world and infanthood. The child's only concern is to get material to satisfy his hunger. And this aspect brings into focus the fact that the modern capitalist economy is based on the supply of this raw material, and this is the evil of modern civilization.

      The beauty of the poem lies in using nature language for the actions of a child, which makes us conscious about the contrast between the actions of a child and those of a tyrant or a saint. The child has been presented as a mature man, who thinks himself as a ruler and others as supplier. The child hopes that everybody should love him, obey him, otherwise he would destroy the world.

      The child and so also the tyrant believes in 'I'. He is not conscious of 'You' (the society, the individuals). His is a world based on Eros, and not an Agape. The present political and economic system is a form of tyranny.

      The theme of the poem is frankly adolescent, but the centre of the imagery and emotion is the childhood experience. The poem asserts that we must acquire a new national identity and a new morale.

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