Psychology and Marxism in Auden's Poetry

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      A Combination of human heart with a desire to reform the society is the salient feature in Auden's poetry. Auden was not at all political as he may seems to be. The theories of different political leaders have been reshaped and thus accepted for his own poetical necessities. As a poet he has never made his creations propaganda of any theory but has annihilated in a proper aesthetic way. Auden's poetry before 1933 shows that infact, he was not interested in politics, Marxist or any other brand.

Auden visited Germany in 1928. The psychological thinking of John Layard and Homer Lane influenced him. He believed that all illness is psychological in its origin.
W. H. Auden

Influence of German Psychologists:

      Auden visited Germany in 1928. The psychological thinking of John Layard and Homer Lane influenced him. He believed that all illness is psychological in its origin.

Elevation of Instinct:

      Auden came to know from these two psychologists that crime and disease go hand in hand i.e., man's greatest sin was disobedience to the inner law or urge of our own nature. Man should liberate the instincts and restore the balance between mind and body. Though human beings are born free yet the instincts lay everywhere in chains. In modern society and thus death-wish follows. But the cure for all these lie within the individual himself.

Concept of it of German Psychologist George Groddeck:

      Groddeck, the German psychiatrist's conception of a powerful energy - lt confirmed Auden's glorification of instinct according to Groddeck. It waits within the individuals and tries to find self-fulfillment by taking life to higher and healthier levels. Groddeck's It was borrowed and changed by Freud into Id. Id is considered by all psychologists a force for good and any repression or inhibition of this life-force results in ill-health and disease. This life-force is repressed by its enemy, its opposite, the rational mind.

      Auden's message of early poetry is to channelize the super ego. With all these psychological views in his concept, Auden started writing his early poems. These poems were the amalgamation of similarities in those psychological sources. So the obvious message of Auden's early poetry is that the power of Super Ego must be overthrown and the Id should be fetters-free. The healthy instincts should not be repressed by the enemy, designated in modern urban culture. The life force should not become the death force. The images that destroy the life and love i.e. the formless terror in the dream are regarded as enemies by the psychologists. The enemy simply helps to dry and dreaden. Auden in his poem The orators has exhaustively enumerated these qualities of the enemy.

Undesirable Elements to be Eliminated:

      The only friends and healers are those who teach to refuse to be afraid. They are the source of strength against the enemy.

A Struggle between Good and Evil:

      A constant struggle between these two forces - friends and enemies - goes on in human soul, and Auden has presented this view in his early poems. The modern age is a age of evolutionary decline, for it is the death-wish which reigns much of Auden's psychological musing.

      In the year 1933, a sort of intellectual change occurred in Auden's poetry. The period from 1933 to 1940 is regarded as Marxist Period in Auden's poetic career. Political and economic events of the decade must have contributed a great deal to bring about a change in Auden's mental orientation. In this period of industrial unrest, economic disorder, crisis and dismay, Auden relented to Marxist theory to some extent. But this change in Auden's theme was not abrupt. It was an easy transition from Freud to Marx. To the early Auden, Freudian theory played a vital role but, after that, he pinned his faith on the Marxist way. Auden avoided political Marxism and adopted philosophical Marxism. According to Marx a philosophic man must observe his environment carefully and verify experimentally the observed facts. It is in this way the true knowledge is gained. Knowledge enables man to change and control his environment. Auden in his poem of this period has emphasized on the need of right choice' and Environmental control. By this choice and environmental control true freedom comes. Auden feels true freedom does not mean independence of natural laws but an understanding of them. Freedom-necessity-choice philosophy lies at the heart of Auden's Marxist work.

Blissfulness of Acceptance of Life: Auden's Message:

      The central belief in Auden's poetry is acceptance of life as a blessing: He conveyed the message through his poetry that life could be accepted as a great source of pleasure and pinned this notion in his poetry. This notion was speeded up by his discovery of Kierkegaard in whom he not only found philosophical reasons for accepting life but a theological explanation in support of this view.

Necessity of Action and Rational Control:

      All this clearly shows that Auden now believes that something is wrong with the social environment, and this environment rather than the heart must be changed. Action is needed, real action in a world, outside the landscape of psychological allegory. To quote Raplogle "Now that spontaneous love, rushing forth from a released id, no longer seemed an effective panacea for cultural ills, he sometimes began to look suspiciously even at private love itself and to condemn those who favored its spontaneity above rational control. Love might be only a pernicious escape from reality, he wrote, a private pleasure blotting out the need for social action. Love cannot after all change anything significant."

      Men, no longer good at birth are turned bad by inhibiting society, are now at best born a moral. Thus they must be made good, a job that cannot be left to the caprices of native instincts, as likely as not to serve an evil cause as a good. Instincts must be guided by reason. Men must control their world in effect make their world. It cannot be left to grow in its own disorderly way. Unless he can control it, man is a slave to its very whim. And Freedom means control of self and nature, and control demands action, not the passive attendance upon some flowering of innate goodness. Most important, action demands choice. At every point in their existence men must choose to act, choose to control, choose between good and evil:

"Yours is the choice to whom the gods awarded
The language of learning and the language of love
Crooked to move as a moneybag or a cancer
Or straight as a dove",


(i) Influence of psychology on Auden was tremendous. Due to mental agony, he was searching the values against the existing system. He is convinced of the urgent need for mental therapy; he believes that the spread and assimilation of the findings of psychology can help society towards health. He is sure that such action is morally desirable. According to him, we must nurse the sense of decency.

(ii) He used images for the enemy, the destroyer of life and love whose agents are malaise, cowardice, inability to cope, inertia, the longing for death, frustration, the ingrown will, reason without emotion, self-regard; the enemy is all the fear and negation which helps to dry and dreaden.

(iii) Auden's special interest is in what the psychologists generally call 'anxiety' or dread. He refers continually to "the lost, the lonely, the unhappy," the "loneliness", the sick souls, self-imprisoned, time obsessed, subsisting on "aspirins and weak sea", those for whom "it is not good to be alone".

(iv) Self-love is the rout of psychological illness. Mirror and the Age of Anxiety - is the mirror, the symbol for self-regarding escape. In the mirror, one stares only at one self, and sees simply a reflection, panic clutches at the heart because there is no way through.

(v) Auden was influenced by the doctrine of Marxism. The period from 1933 to 1940 is Auden's Marxist period. It is the philosophical aspect of Marxism which is more important as far as Auden's poetry is concerned. Marx's philosophy is an empirical one. Man must observe his environment carefully and verify experimentally the observed facts.

(vi) Auden's important works are psychological but not based on political theories. He stressed on human heart to reform society. Our psychological ills disarders (disorders) are more important than our political.

(vii) In 1928 Auden visited Germany, there he concentrated on psychological thinking. The German psychologists convinced him that illness is psychological in its origin. Furthermore, it causes so many diseases leading to cancer, tonsillitis and rare throat. He emphasized on the principle of healthy mind in a healthy body.

(viii) Auden condemned intellect which causes so many baffling problems. On the other side, he makes glorification of instinct. Auden feels man should liberate the instincts. Auden was also under the influence of German psychiatrist named George Groddeck who stressed on powerful energy which he calls It.

(ix) Freud further changed 'It' into 'Id'. All these psychologists agree that whether 'It' or 'Id' there should be force for good.

(x) This life force is repressed by its enemy. Thus the individual is the victim of the battle between the life force and super ego. Auden's early poems are based on this principle.

(xi) The healthy instinct should not be repressed and turned towards self-destruction.

(xii) In early poems there was an influence of Marxism. In Marxist period Auden left for U.S.A. Political and economic events of the decade have influenced him and his mental orientation.

(xiii) It was a period of economic disorder, of crisis and dismay.

(xiv) There was no water-tight compartment between Marxism and Freudism. In this period both these philosophies were dominating or hovering in his mind.

(xv) Economic issues and psychological issues were the main themes of this period. His source of inspiration was environment when he was writing his early poems.

(xvi) The remedy for all the ills needs action and rational control. It is advisable that men control their world, infact make their own world. Our world should not be disorderly. Rational attitude makes this world orderly and without crisis. This orderly world is concerned with right choice. Our action demands choice. So right choice is indispensable.

(xvii) Auden has abhorrence for political Marxism. His Marxism is devoid of political theory. He diagnosed social illness.

(xviii) Philosophical Marxism is the goal of W.H. Auden. Marx's philosophy is an empirical one i.e. man must observe his environment carefully and make the right choice.

(xix) Auden's message is that there should be an acceptance of life. There is more bliss and cheerfulness if there is a proper study of the environment, and need of the right choice is of great importance. This is the pivotal point or nucleus of Freudism and Marxism.

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