O Where Are You Going? || Summary and Analysis

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Introduction:

      Auden's poem O where are you going is a ballad. It originally constituted the 'Epilogue' to the Orators. In the Epilogue, Auden takes up the theme of Quest, and the ballad is a concentrated and compressed expression of the same theme. John Hayward regarded the poem as "the most valuable contribution to English poetry since The Waste Land. The poem was later on entitled There companions and included in the Collected Shorter Poems, 1950.

      The poem is written in the form of a dialogue between the "Quest Hero-Rider", "Farer, "Hearer" and "Reader", "Fearer" and "Horror", and it shows the Quester discarding the qualities which had hitherto prevented and hampered him. The ballad is thus a call to action and adventure.

      The reader' stands for the escapist, and the sceptical intellectual visualises the birth of the new world as a fatal valley where furnaces burn' and the Odours of the 'midden will madden'.

      This poem forms a part of The Orators. The point of view in The Orators is partly that of the school boy. the adolescent with his profound ambivalence to authority and his yearning for heroism and sacrifice, and partly that of the bourgeois rebel who was formed by the system and is part of it but rejects it. The orators can be headmasters, teachers, clerks, propounders of false doctrine and defenders of the system generally: the term suggests an ironic parallel between these highly respectable people and the soap-box orators of Hyde-park, who are also sometimes fake prophets and hero-leaders.

      In this poem the brave quester who is intent on the exploration of a new world and order of thing is questioned by the wavering intellectual, the fearer, and the neurotic are advised to abandon his guest on the basis of the imaginary hazards involved in it.

Auden's poem O where are you going is a ballad. It originally constituted the 'Epilogue' to the Orators. In the Epilogue, Auden takes up the theme of Quest, and the ballad is a concentrated and compressed expression of the same theme.
O Where Are You Going?

Summary

      In the first stanza, the 'reader' stands for the escapist, or the intellectuals who are coward. They read too much to do anything. The reader tells the rider, the quester hero, not to go out for there are dangers and difficulties which have been come of death of many a bold hero like him. The sceptical intellectual visualises the birth of the new world as a fatal valley where furnaces burn and the odours of the midden will madden.

      In the second stanza the quester is referred to as the Farer and the fearer, symbolising timid cowardly people who are afraid of a change. The rider is perhaps going to join the revolution, or to migrate to some other country, or to break-with the old society. The reader further tells the rider that the place where he is going, is dung-hill, the bad smell of which will make him mad. Again there is a graye-like gap in that valley, where many brave people are lying buried. Moreover if he thinks over the matter coolly, he will find that the new world is also not perfect, it also lacks many things. So it is useless to leave the established order and seek for the new one with all the hazards involved in the quest.

      In the third stanza the 'horror' tells the 'hearer' that was a bird of ill-omen, which just flew across them. 'The horror' here symbolises superstitious people afraid of men, ghosts, etc. The horror tells the hearer of ill-omens and ghostly apparitions burking round him which are dangerous for his health and well-being. Therefore, he should postpone his departure, at least, till the stars are more favourable.

       In the final stanza, the quester is represented by 'rider', 'farer' and 'hearer'. Here the quester expresses his determination to set out on his journey immediately. He rejects the advice of the 'reader'. 'The fearer' and the horror' and sets out on his chosen path with courage and determination. He boldly adopts optimism to complete the quest.

Critical Appreciation

      Auden in his poem O Where Are You Going has made his quest-hero to be bold enough and proceed to his mission neglecting the 'horror'. So the poem becomes an allegory through which the poet has conveyed the moral that great and noble achievement is possible only for those who can discard "intellectualism, fear and neurosis" and set out with courage and determination. Thus the truth the ballad conveys is a universal one.

      So it can be said that the poem is an appeal to courage and action. The speakers in this poem has been represented by the reader, the fearer and horror. They point out various mysterious and ominous dangers. The Quest-hero on the other hand has been represented by the rider, the farer and the hearer. He is a man of action. He dismisses these fears and misgivings, leaves them there and goes on. The question arises, where is he going? He is going most probably to the revolution, to migrate, to get out of the old house' and cross the frontier to break with the old society. So the poem has a purely moral and psychological tone.

      Though the poem is very complex from the technical point of view, it is a good example of Auden's technical skill. The tone of the poem is dramatic and the thought has been expressed laconically.

      Auden in this poem uses the conventional four-lined ballad stanza, but in this balanced stanzaic construction he uses alliteration - reader, rider', fatal', 'furnaces', 'midden, 'madden'-and alternating feminine and masculine end-rhymes. The central metaphor in the poem is that of the quest. The images of terror are very effective. The poem has cool symmetry, punning and playing on sounds.

      The ballad uses, to quote Richard Hoggart, "Anglo Saxon alliteration and half-lines inside a nicely balanced stanzaic construction, and in its final stanza draws together the parallel threads of the simple moral: that the first positive step against frustration is not to given in to fear."

Conclusion:

      The poem is a brilliant appeal to courage and action. Auden's Quest hero in this poem dismisses all fears and misguides and determines to migrate and thus fulfill his mission. On political level the poem may be interpreted as a refusal of compromise and a call to action. But it has meaning only in context; in isolation its references would be purely moral-psychological. The imagery of the burning furnaces and maddening middens conjures up an outlandish world remote from reality.

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