Myth Making Art: in W. H. Auden's Poetry

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Definition and Explanation of Myth:

      A myth may be defined as a story or multifarious stories. They are concerned with the common property of a society. It is not concerned with one individual but embodies some universal human experience which is accepted by all. In a specific period there are some mythologies or collection of myth. The basic properties and themes remain perpetual. Hence the literary artist use these myths to give vent to their feelings and sentiments. As these sentiments have a lot of universality, they are accepted by everybody and the glorification of the art enhances. Because of misery the situation becomes very suggestive. The artist puts his scattered views in a proper order by using these symbols and images. The formulas and shapes have experience. They are ordered and made coherent. Therefore mythology is a collection of tales which are socially and individually symbolic. As Auden puts it, "Myths are collective creations, they cease to appear when a society has become sufficiently differentiated for its individual members to have individual conceptions of their tasks".

A myth may be defined as a story or multifarious stories. They are concerned with the common property of a society. It is not concerned with one individual but embodies some universal human experience which is accepted by all. In a specific period there are some mythologies or collection of myth. The basic properties and themes remain perpetual.
W. H. Auden

Necessity of Systematic Ideas:

      The twentieth century is a very complicated age. Life is full of complexities. The modern writer feels the necessity. He collects some heterogeneous matter around his pattern or system of ideas. Sometimes he is unable to collect the myth from history. Then he searches new patterns and makes his own myth. For example, Yeats searches new patterns. He embodies those myths in his prose work Vison I & II. T.S. Eliot uses the mythical technique in his plays and poetry.

      Similarly Auden also uses old myths. Sometimes he uses new myths; which he organises around his varied and complex material. He is treated to be the greatest myth-maker poet in the English language

Nature of the Mortmere Myth and its Significance:

      Auden had a gang with some friends in his early period in Oxford. His friends were Spender, Day-Lewis, Isherwood and Upward. They together made up their private Mortmere myth. In this myth they fused the heroic world of Beowulf, the Anglo-Saxon epic hero; Mortmere with the school boy world and school boy exploits of Auden and his friends. Each poet must make his own mythology. So Auden and his friends tried to do so. Auden's early poems are coloured with this myth. With the help of myth, the obscurities and vagueness have been cleared. And thus Auden was able to express his ideas quite transparently. It is Auden's myth-making habit which gives Auden's early poetry and much of his later poetry a significant form and content. In his early and later poems we find an allegorical (picture, play, poem etc. in which the characters and events represent particular qualities or ideas, related to some moral, religious or political meaning,) struggle between the forces of good and evil, the struggle between the Enemies and the Healer or the Id' and the 'Super-ego'. These two opposite powers are constantly struggling for control over the human soul. And the human soul is the place of their battlefield. The Mortmere myth - the gang myth accounts Auden's life-long pre occupation with journeys, frontiers and mountains. Auden and his friends in the gang used these adventures in the guise of myth.

      To quote Raplogle: In the world of the 'gang myth', - Mortmere myth - a border or frontier separates the healthy from the sick. Conflict between these enemies gives the myth nearly all its action and subject matter for characters to talk about. The main figures most often live on the wrong side of the frontier, where they struggle externally with the enemy, or internally with the attractions of both sides, or suffer the baffling multiplicity of torments allotted to the sick." So the Mortmere myth has a great significance in Auden's early poetry and in his later poetry also. This myth making habit gives a speciality and importance to Auden's poetry.

Frontier: Its Significance

      Like Mortmere, Frontier is also a type of myth. Auden has used the Frontier myth in his poem. Frontiers are the travellers. The travellers are always the members of the younger generations. They are frustrated with their society and atmosphere. They want get rid of their society. They are sick and so long to regain health. With this purpose they hope that travelling can only give them mental and physical health. So they try to cross the border, travel from one place to another. But after reaching there they collapse or they are too afraid to take a new leap for a new venture; sometimes they refuse to take any new and accept the decay of their familiar home. The decay or declension which was quite frightening and a thing of avoidance became their ultimate destination. In Auden's work a band of right thinking disciples generally accompanies the young quester towards the healthy land. During and after the trip, temptations and importunities from the sick culture assail everybody. In Auden's work we see that whole band of pilgrims languish and sink in exile. Instead of getting cured, and a healthy life they collapse. Because they are surprised and bewildered by the absence of what they expected there, and thus succumb, "to the sweet decay of his familiar home."

Travel: Its Different Modes

      In myths there are different modes of travel. The heroes move in different ways. Sometimes the travellers moves by trains, sometimes by ships. Auden's hero often goes by rail. So the different modes of travel play their part in the myth. Once across the border the exiled gang prefers to settle in mountains. The ships, engines, railheads, junctions, harbours, coastguards men are the important parts of his myth. All these are showed up, described or sometimes explained to carry some kind of allegorical import. All these are connected with borders and the journey to them. Since across the border, the exile gang prefers to settle in mountains. From this height they plan to attack the native who live in Valleys. But they fail to act according to their motive. Because their surroundings did not allow them or their will, force to carry out the order, the dictation of their soul. So instead of curing diseases there are the reappearance of old disorders.

Mountains and other Heights:

      To leap to a new place, to go up in the mountains or down in the plains are all symbolical. There are heights other than mountains. There are so many Airman figures which are very much important in Auden's poetry. Besides Airman, there are many flying creatures like geese, hawks, kestrels, and gulls. All these have some special significance. There are also a good deal of additional, allegorical furniture-woods, game-keepers, gaiters, farms, flowers, funnels, mines, borings, glaciers, islands, power lines, boats, overall comic names. All these have some sort of special association. The use and role of these figures or furnitures are not always very clear. Sometimes Auden and his gang has used all these as a habit of myth-making in their poetry.

Myth: How Auden Uses It

      The Mortemer myth continued to colour Auden's psychological poetry and also his Marxist poetry all through the 1930's. It gave him a ready-made landscape of warring good and bad forces. It also provides him with a mythical landscape through which "his hero Journeys from bourgeois hallucination to the Frontier of Marxist reality". To quote Raplogle: "There is nothing particularly systematic or uniform about Auden's use of myth material. The grand design of its structure never appears in a single work where the reader can survey the whole landscape and get his hearings. But it is not essential for the reader to know about the myth at all. He can make some sense out of most poems without ever having heard of such things, though he can make more sense out of many if he does know about it. Auden uses the myth in several ways - or rather the myth floats in and out of his poetry in several ways. Sometimes entire poems are set inside the world of myth itself. Others simply draw on it for illustrations on incidental imagery. In "O what is that sound which so thrills the ear." and large sections of The Orators, we are inside the myth world, looking around. No commentator from outside tells us what we are looking at - or its significance. At least seven poems of the 1933 edition of poems are the utterances of sick men, while at least twelve others are spoken by a healthy or neutral commentator. In 1940 when Auden's ideas and style started to change, the myth becomes of negligible importance. In the Poems (1933) there are only three poems that appear to contain no myth material. In Auden's The Orators, there is no use of myth.

The Mountain Dwellers: Myths of the Questers

      After 1930 he has not used the border or the frontier as a myth. He has separated the healthy good from the unhealthy bad. The favourite mode of travel is the railway road. The railways signify health and vitality. The branch lines signify allegorical presentation of temptations. They attract the weaker. These Questers are from the main root to the Frontier, Auden's Questers are facing dangers from the romantic endearments. The migrants generally live in mountains, for example in Poems and in The Orators. The mountain dwellers do not find any suitable response as they are expecting. According to Auden, escape from sickness does not ensure health. Auden's exiles, escape of sickness are used in the bad sense of the word. Images are used to signify that they are turning always from its reality. Mountains are significant because they provide something like the hawk's view. The Airmani's perspective also represents the unreality of self-deception. Thus the mountain dwellers retreat from the valleys where life must be lived to the arid heights. In fact Auden is mentally ill-balanced because of corruption. He expresses his views with the help of the mountain dwellers. Further he elaborates this image. Auden feels that harvest may be rotten in the valleys but men can again "gush and flush" back to health. They again go to the mountains in order to escape from a world which is very undesirable.

      To quote Raplogle: "while mountains provide something like the hawk's view and the airman's perspective, they can also represent the unreality of self-deception, a retreat from the valleys where life must be lived (even of corrupt) to the arid heights. Harvests may be "rotting in the valley" but men can "gush, flush" them back to health, and trips up the mountains can become mere escapes from a world that needs rebuilding. Here and in various other places Auden clearly associates mountains with a form of escapism; intellectual idealism, intellectualism is general, or even religion, a special form of idealism."

The Sickness as the Wrong Side of the Border:

      W.H. Auden has used the myth as the wrong side of the border. In his early poetry there is always a psychological border. Everything exists either on one side or the other of this psychological border. On the sick side all the persons are sexually perverted and they are the defenders of the Status quo. In Auden's poems these persons are very conspicuous by their class. They are at the "first garden party of the year" or "Dangerous, easy in, furs at reserved tables." All these myths reveal the perversities of life. His early works reveal this category of people. They have death-wish symptoms. Another myth pertain to dons, "who are born nurses, who living in short." Some young persons are "bird watchers" and they want to "live voluntarily in a toys rooms". Auden in his poetry The Orators tried to identify those people who live on the wrong side of the border. In his important poem The Orators, he is writing a little more than a note book mentioning odd characteristics to identify those people who live on the wrong side of the border. When "chairs are being brought in from the garden", the children playing "by the flooded football ground" are described in Auden's poetry. These images reveal that we are looking at the wrong side of the border. The enemy institutions of our society have been focussed by the public schools and the garden parties.

Various Kinds of Escape:

      Auden depicts the symptoms of cultures, final decadents. Religion also appears as a symptom of the culture's terminal illness. He defines escape "into the wilderness to pray, Means that I wish to leave and to pass on". Some characters in Auden's poetry are seen as the mountain awellers. The mountain itself, apparently a legacy from the gang myth, Could obviously be both a blessing and a curse to the sick. To escape from the sickness they fake shelters or flee to different places, which they think to be safer and devoid of all sickness representing the Cruelties, absurdities and horrors of the present age which has a very deep-rooted impact on twentieth century. After escaping they think hat it is a place where they are "above" illness. Here they can see their world in a larger perspective. The persons who escape from the odd realities, Auden likes to represent them in this way. But he also, reveals that all rejections are not healthy. So escape to a mountain will also be a mistake and Auden shows them going sick and dying up in the mountains.

Auden's Mythical Landscapes:

      In his early poems Auden has used Mortmere myth. Mortmere is of very much significance in his early poems. Tunnels, mines, boring, coast-guard, towers and men, and farm frequently recur in Auden's poems and drive their significance from the early myth. The farmhouse may have something to do with the Marxist country city opposition, but they all have an earlier non-Marxist existence in the Mortmere myth. Auden presents farms as a dwelling place for the healthy people. Auden's farm is connected to the sick culture by a radio. Though al these myth used are vague, the tone the speakers use suggests all are state-props brought in from the private world encircling Auden's friend who are referred to as the "gang".

Characters with Odd Qualities:

      Usually if characters have any strange traits as collecting habits, a fondness for overalls, boots, bootlaces; any kind of cough or tell about ailment, however minor, an interest in games and so on - they are the sick, living on the wrong side of the border. Their sickness is mirrored by the physical landscape - "power-stations locked, deserted", "pylons fallen" "sitted harbours, derelict works," In "strangled orchards" - all are the familiar crumbling machines and broken stage props of his allegorical world. Because of the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies, these characters are living on the wrong side of the border. The characters of the sick culture are attracted by the individual described as handsome, tall, well-dressed, good at games, participants in most social functions, living in big houses, going to public schools. All are specially identified by Auden. Sometimes they are personified from the characters of middle-class family members or sometimes they are upper-class human, personified by psychological concepts and sometimes they are just private enemies of the Mortmere. Auden who was a school boy, full of energy and vigour and so liked to abuse the older generation at large. Thus the characters with odd qualities are described as just opposite to the characters who are on the right side of the border.

The Collectors:

      In modern world there are so many perversions and cruelties and the youths are the victims of these perversions. Perversion is a pleasure to them. Due to this perversion some neurotic practice takes place. "Collecting" is a familiar neurotic practice of anal-retentive types. It is also a perverse pleasure derived from socially respectable channel. One who collects everything is an indiscriminate kleptomaniac. The Airman's case is even more serious. He collects everything, whatever it is. In The Ascent of F-6 Gun also collects everything, makes off with "bits of India rubber... watches pencils and anything. The sick mountain gang in The Ascent of F-6, also includes an additional compulsive collector. Lamp is a botanist, who dies trying to find a new addition to his collection of flowers. Botanical collectors are doubly sick. In The orators and The Dog Beneath the Skin Vicar explains that "flowers in a vase" express "some unsavoury double entendre." Auden and his friends thought of flowers in connection with some sexual pathology. What all this means is not completely clear but in paid on the Both sides the sexuality of flowers is associated with masturbation.

Conclusion:

      A myth is a device used by the twentieth century novelists, poets playwrights and critics. A myth may be defined as a story or a group of stories. It is not the property of any individual but it is the common property of a society. Hence these myths embody some general or human experience. The other phrase objective complexity-relative is concerned with the myth-making imagination. All the myths have symbolic force and suggestiveness. The twentieth century is incoherent, experiences are highly formless. Thus mythology is a collection of tales socially and individually symbolic. All the contemporaries of Auden have been using this device. The Mortmere myth is very conspicuous in Auden's work. The heroic world of Beowulf, the Anglo-saxon epic hero Mortmere are fused with school boy world and the school boy exploits of Auden and his friends. Fragments of this myth colour Auden's early poetry in order to clear many obscurities in his poems.

      Auden has used various types of myths i.e. Frontier, different modes of travel, Mountains and other heights, the Questers. Escape, the sick, the collectors and Mythical Landscapes.

Recapitulation:

      (i) Definition of myth connotes a group of stories which embodies Some general human experiences.

      (ii) There is a great need of the system of myth making in Modern Age. The heterogeneous experiences which are amalgamated around some patterns are system of ideas. Like his contemporaries - Yeats, T.S. Eliot and Hopkins, Auden has successfully utilised this device.

      (iii) The Mortmere myth is very distinguishable in the poetry of W.H. Auden. The main figures most often on the wrong side of the Frontiers bear the struggle externally with the enemy or internally with the attractions of both sides, or suffer the baffling multiplicity of torments alotted in the sick.

      (iv) Travelling has an important role in Auden's poetry. Travelling may be of different kinds. Auden's hero travels in different ways - sometimes by rail, sometimes by ships. All these carry some allegorical import.

      (v) Mountains have also very great significance in Auden's poetry. There are other heights than mountains. The mention of geese, hawks, kestrels and gulls have some special importance.

      (vi) Mortmere myth continued to colour Auden's poetry all through the 1930's. It provided him with a readymade landscape of warring good and evil forces. There is nothing particularly systematic or uniform about Auden's use of myth material. He "uses the myth in several ways - or rather the myth floats in and out of the poetry in several ways. Sometimes an entire poem is set inside the world of myth itself. Others simply draw on it for illustrations or incidental imagery

      (vii) Auden hardly wrote a single poem without having the border or the frontier in his mind, the line which separates the healthy good from the unhealthy, bad. Like the travellers and the Airmen, The Mountain Dwellers and The Questers are very important in Auden's poems. Auden's Questers face the dangers of pastoral attractions and attraction of romantic endearments. They are all escapists Auden's escape from sickness does not ensure health. The escape from sickness is used in bad sense of the word. It is simply a turn away from sickness, withdraw and deny its reality.

      (viii) Various Kinds of escape: Not all rejections are healthy. Some are subtler symptom of the prevailing illness. The Mountain Dwellers are also doing a mistake. Auden shows them going sick and dying up in the mountains. The escaplsts think that their escape will enable them to solve their problem but instead of that they see the world against a larger perspective and from that ascetic peaks they swoop down again on the decadants below.

      (ix) In the twentieth century the people who are on the wrong side of the border are the religious idealists and the sexually perverse Auden through his poetry used to identify those people who live on the wrong side of the border and hence he has taken the help of myth and allegory. The Orators is little more than a note book listing the odd characteristics of Auden's identification.

      (x) Usually the characters with odd qualities are specially being identified in Auden's work; he calls them the sick, living on the wrong side of the border.

      (xi) Collecting of different things such as flower collection. (that the habit of a botanist), is also a kind of hopeful exile the result of which is soon to turn sick. The sick mountain gang in The Ascent of F-6 includes an additional compulsive collector. The Airmen collect everything. All these are a kind of eccentricities from which the twentieth century youth are suffering.

      (xii) The meaning of Auden's early poetry cannot be clearly grasped without a knowledge of the private Mortmere myth of the Auden Gang, Auden and his friends have also used different mythical landscape to portrait their characters against those landscapes. The characters are either on the one side or on the other side of the border. In Auden's poetry "farm", "wood", "railways" are the healthy symbols i.e., on the right side of the border. Sometimes the characters aree connected with this healthy atmosphere in some way but soon they lose the connection and get themselves back to their old decayed circle.

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