Style and Technique: Used in W. H. Auden's Poetry

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Auden par excellent in his Style and Technique:

      Auden's Style is par excellent. He is the master of many styles. His command over style and technique is highly commendable. At first glance his work appears to be bewilderingly diverse, sometimes readers become confused. He experimented with new styles from the prose of Henry James, and late works to the nursery rhymes after Edward Lear. The various influences on Auden led him to write in a wide variety of styles. Besides, the thirties during which Auden wrote most of his early poetry were a period of great crisis, and hence, he had to make constant adjustments in his form and technique.

Auden's style was of different varieties. His style is quite flexible. He experimented all the time. So he was always changing and growing in his style. J.W. Beach comments on Auden's work in the way that "his work was not of one man but of many men." Auden had an amazing capacity for assimilation. In describing the various styles used in 1928 and later volumes of poems, following are the most obvious characteristic of his style first all most obvious characteristic of his style is the detached, clinical objective attitude, with modern and scientific imagery.
W. H. Auden

      His earliest poetry, the poetry that he wrote between 1927 and 1932 is mainly concerned with themes of youth and family ties. Auden is keen to experiment with all sorts of forms and manners of expressions with a view to evolving a hard cerebral style.

      In the period between 1933 and 1938, Auden experimented with a wide variety of traditional and popular forms as he wanted to popularize his ideas derived from Freud, Homer Lane and Karl Marx.

Auden's Style: Different Varieties

      Auden's style was of different varieties. His style is quite flexible. He experimented all the time. So he was always changing and growing in his style. J.W. Beach comments on Auden's work in the way that "his work was not of one man but of many men." Auden had an amazing capacity for assimilation. In describing the various styles used in 1928 and later volumes of poems, following are the most obvious characteristic of his style first all most obvious characteristic of his style is the detached, clinical objective attitude, with modern and scientific imagery.

      Secondly, there is variety in his meter and stanza. Thirdly there is a closeness to dream, riddle, the non-logical and subconscious, both in the omission of grammatical and logical connectives. Lastly, there is a frequent obscurity in his style resulting not only from omission o connectives but from lack of any discoverable connections among images as association, from uncertainty as to who is speaking and what is going on.

Early Style:

      In his early poems, Auden shows more trust in the efficaciousness of words than in his later poems, but his images here, by and large, do not grow in any organic way. Sometimes his chain of images has no imaginative connection. Besides his unselective use of imagery sometimes bores the reader as, for example:

...the intolerable neural itch,
The exhaustion of meaning the liar's quinsy.

      Auden wrote in a particular mode without pausing to make sure that it was the most suitable for the poem he was writing. Perhaps he realized his indiscretion later in life when he described his early poetry as rioted with 'irrelevance' and 'pure rubbish'. Auden was more concerned with surprising, shocking or reducing the reader into serious self-examination and in this, he was quite successful. The overall impression on Auden's early poems is that Auden possessed a rich sensibility and a great technical virtuosity even at this early stage. Auden's early style has been called "telegraphese" by Louse Mac Neice because of his frequent leaving out of articles, relatives, connectives pronouns and auxiliary verbs. To quote Hoggart: Auden's early style has, "a stark air, caused both by the ellipsis and by heavy debts to Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic verse." Then there is his use of phraseology borrowed from contemporary psychology, from his readings in Homer Lane, Groddeck and others.

      In the period between 1933 and 1938, Auden experimented with a wide variety of traditional and popular forms as he wanted to popularize his ideas derived from Freud, Homer, Lane and Karl Marx.

      Conversational meter is one of the characteristic features of the middle style. Unlike Auden's early poetry, his middle poetry was not at all didactic. If compared, Auden's early poetry tended to be private and was inclined towards fantasy, whereas then poetry of his late thirties tended to be public, destructive and explicable diagnostic.

      Conversational meter is another characteristic feature of his middle style. The beginnings of this new manner can be seen in poem XII of poems 1930. This is achieved by a manipulation of speech rhythms in a manner as to produce a distinct tone of voice. The earliest practitioner of the conversational meter was Langland and Skeleton It was taken up later by Dryden and in the modern time by Hopkins, Walt Whitman, Dr. Lawrence, Wilfred Owen and last but not the least, T.S. Eliot. The verse written in this manner is flexible yet firm, and is useful in many ways.

      In the mid-thirties Auden also wrote some very fine Iyric's which we find in Nones. To quote Hoggart "The note which seems most characteristic and most impressive in the lyrics, is of a kind of stillness; not a passivity nor always the stillness of menace, but a held imaginative Stasis where the spirit looks steadily and often tenderly at a still moment of experience. It is all, of course, as much a matter of sound as of sense." Auden was obviously influenced by Rilke who exhorted the poet to sit still and absorb, to "bless what there is for being." His most typical lyric is "May with its light behaving" Auden's extraordinary gift for lyrics made F.W. Dupee and John Brodbery to describe him as essentially a lyrical talent, "which is at its best in sustaining poetic effects within a relatively short space." The songs that Auden wrote are of great accomplishment. In the songs, he was able to achieve the two things he had been constantly striving for: (1) intimate contact with the audience and (2) the quality of lightness in verse.

      Monroe K. Spears divides Auden's songs into two types; popular songs and art songs. Popular songs, he says, are those written to fit an existing tune or to suggest a specific kind of music (blues, walz, ballad). Art songs often are like lyrics and sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish between the two.

      One important type of popular songs is songs for children. Simple in form, they are like nursery rhymes or the hymns or the traditional verses for children. For these Auden might have derived his inspiration from Blake's Songs of Experience.

      Art songs are written to be set to music. They should at least produce the illusion of being specially suitable for musical settings. Auden had a good background of music. He had been a singer and a piano player. He said that the intention of writing for music produced new and beautiful kind of poetry, and that it was a close association of poets and musicians that produced so rhythmical a poetry in the Elizabethan age. Auden's Look Stranger on this Island is a beautiful musical poem.

      Auden's experience of writing sometimes explicitly for music and often with the possibility of musical setting had a great effect on his poetry in general. He maintained his interest in the relation of music and poetry and wrote several critical essays on the subjects. Auden's essays on the subjects objectively led him to write songs, for the thought of songs as "the least personal and most verbal." His fondness for light verse was also the consequence of his belief in the theory of objectivity in poetry. After 1935, Auden started using words in a 'unserious' way, no matter how serious the theme of the poem.

      Auden also wrote light verse. This he wrote not for pleasure but because lightness in poetry ensures a rather close relation between the poet and his audience. The light verse provided Auden a stimulus to develop his unserious technique. It also suggested striking variation on folk figures and verse forms in which colloquial diction and witty rhymes were appropriate. It provided a vehicle for treating serious subjects in an ironically lowbrow manner. Auden's experiments in light verse provided him an opportunity to explore the principle of poetic unexpectedness. Kierkegaard taught him that "the most direct source of aesthetic interest is the unexpected or the incongruous."

      Auden continued to apply this principle to his poetry and made it a part of his technique even in his later poetry. He successfully cultivated a style in which he could treat the most serious subjects in a trivial way.

      After the Second World War, he stopped writing songs and instead started writing Opera Dibretti. Auden's contribution to the rehabilitation of spera libretti is also formidable.

      Auden's imagination works largely in terms of dramatic images which are usually translations of abstract ideas. The archaic imagery is recovered not for any picturesque, use but, for serving a fine irony which includes the poet as well as the class to which he belongs.

      Auden uses the method of broad satire where he relies more heavily on the external framework to pull the poem together as in poem XVI in the Poems of 1930. The following lines from section IV of the poem illustrate the unity Auden aims at -

It is time for the destruction of error.
The chairs are being brought in from the garden,
The summer talks stopped on that ravage coast
Before the storms, after the guests and birds;
In Sanatoriums they laugh less and less
Less certain of cure; and the land madman
Sinks now into a more terrible calm.
The falling leaves know it, the children,
At play on the fuming alkali-up.
Or by the flooded football ground, know it
This is the dragon's day, the devourer's;

      Apart from the fullness and richness of tone and the originality of the rhythm, the contrasts among the various items serve to build up the quiet but powerful irony which the poem achieves.

      People who can afford the gardens show only casual interest in them. They can look at the "destruction of error as only a storm to be escaped by migrating to other lands. The summer talk, the patient's daughter, and the cries of the mad man are ironically linked together in an insight which involves the nature of the whole civilization. In the last four lines, the various images are closely related. The children are described as the falling leaves, which is a natural image. One can also see the connection between the reference to the children and the reference to the dragon, as the children are afraid of him. Ironically therefore, as well as literally, it should be the children who know that the dragon's day has come. With the development of these ironies further relationships become obvious; the children, the mad man, the sick, become related in their sharing of a knowledge which ironically is denied to the adults.

      In the middle period, Auden's imagery becomes more complex but less obscure. He could fuse different images into a coherent whole and make them more powerful as well as more meaningful. He also used a number of images in place of a single image to make the abstract concrete. The poem gets its meaning not from any one image but from all the images taken together.

      The common qualities of Auden's similes are pungent conciseness and a starting contrast - a shock of surprise at the incongruity of the relationship called upon. The most common rhetorical figure in Auden's poetry is personification. This technique helps him in the dramatic structure of his poems as well as in his use of allegory. This also helps him in distinguishing between abstract things as in,

That laconic war-bitten captain
Envy their brilliant pamphleteer.

      Similarly, Auden also presents mythological figures as personification of certain qualities, as for example, he uses Aphrodite as a personification of sexual love in the 1950s, as Eros in the 1940s.

      Auden also made extensive use of allegory. In fact, he preferred allegory to symbolism. Auden says: "Allegory is a form of rhetoric, a device for making the abstract concrete, in nearly all successful allegory the images used do in fact have a symbolic value over and above their allegorical use; but that is secondary to the poet's purpose.

      Auden can make an allegorical use of almost every imagery. He can use material from mathematics, natural history, geology meteorology, archaeology, mythology, liturgies and cooking to provide the appropriate imagery for illustrating or embodying his schematic analysis. Most of his images whether taken from landscape or mathematics are moralized or humanized.

      Auden's rhetorical and allegorical devices make his poetry intellectual rather than emotional, but they go a long way in making the reader believe that he too has a place in the larger scheme of things.

      Auden's early poetry suffered from an incongruity of theme and style the theme was romantic and the style anti-romantic - but by 1940 this incongruity completely disappeared.

Auden's Verification:

      Auden's rhythmical skill, it seems to be completely traditional or an extension of practices introduced by his recent predecessors. Though his prosody is one of his great accomplishments, close analysis will show that he relies heavily on the rhythmical expectations established during centuries of English poetic development.

Wide Range:

      The short lyric and the sonnet have had special attraction for him. Auden has always been interested in light verse, which chiefly entertains and amuses, which is easy and simple, and so through it he can appeal to wider audiences. His light verse possesses all the characteristics of popular verse, from traditional ballad to the contemporary jazz songs. Being influenced by Yeats his poetry is quite flexible.

      It is often grave and friendly and suggests direct conversation between reader and writer which Auden so much admired. However, it may be added that sometimes his conversational rhythms degenerate into a sort of loosely regulated gossip.

Modernism in Auden:

      Actually, Auden was looking at a "moder" poem. Regardless of how traditional the stanza form might be, the tone, diction, and imagery work together to make a poem unmistakably post-victorian. First he felt compelled to reject the direct communication of moral truth. At the same time, his probing of the human psyche convinced him that direct preaching at an audience was simply ineffective. Highly self-conscious himself, he saw that modern readers would have to be aware by direct means. Since about 1935, then, most of his developments in manner and technique grow out of his search for more effective, though always indirect, didactic means. His philosophical position has changed over the years, but the root problems of writing a poem in his mode have not. In every poem, he seeks a poetic strategy which surprise, shock, or reduce his reader into serious self-examination, but simultaneously he seeks to avoid prejudging the terms in which self-assessment should take place.

Some Other Aspects of his Style and Technique:

      Auden conveys his meaning through his diction and versification. He has used various types of techniques. He made use of the technique of cinematography. He surveys the contemporary scene. He observes the desolate landscape objectively from a distance like a hawk or a helmeted Airman. Hence his scenes are very broad and comprehensive. Like the camera, his views are moving closer and closer. We get the Scene very closely and in a detailed manner. In fact, he wants to narrate the story of the modern world because it is a very baffling age. Ills and diseases are innumerable. Hence we examine his scenes narrated by him like cinematograph.

      This technique is adopted by T.S. Eliot in his masterpiece The Waste Land. Auden wrote some poems in 1930. This volume of poetry has been called separate section of Auden's Waste Land. In other words all the separate poems are the complete picture of The Waste Land of T.S. Eliot.

      In America, he used the technique of objective co-relative in the longer poems. For example in Sea and the Mirror the objective - co-relative provided by Shakespeare's The Tempest; in For the Time Being he used the Biblical account of Nativity, and in The Age of anxiety he adopted the device of Langland's Piers the Ploughman. These devices were very effective. They enhanced the pattern, design and beauty of the poem. We feel that he is unsurpassable in the art of versification.

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