The Labyrinth: by W. H. Auden - Summary and Analysis

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      Auden's poem The Labyrinth is included in Auden's New Year Letter. Civilization could not be used against the Nazis who were very brute and cruel. Hence they have spoiled the civilization by their activities.

      The poem is based upon the central theme that the facts of war and the humiliation of civilization are co-related Men can not get rid of this predicament. In fact, W.H. Auden was writing his poems when there were two world wars. Between the two world wars, civilization was horrible. Man's condition was deteriorating day by day. No branch of knowledge or earning can rescue the man. Our worthy poet W. H. Auden took refuge in metaphysics, theology, mathematics, aesthetics, philosophy and psychology. Hence this poem is a satire on the realities of the modern civilization. Although he was writing about every type of ideology, but nothing could give him relief and solve the complicated issues or mazes. So this Labyrinth is expressing his pent up feelings but there was no solution to all these issues.

The Labyrinth implies that the modern age is very complicated. W.H. Auden is the distinguished symbolists of the 20th century. The poem revels the complicated issues of the 20th century by commanding over the art of symbolism which is quite rare in this poem.
The Labyrinth


      The Labyrinth implies that the modern age is very complicated. W.H. Auden is the distinguished symbolist of the 20th century. The poem reveals the complicated issues of the 20th century by commanding over the art of symbolism which is quite rare in this poem. The modern man is engulfed by the paramount issues - materialistic, sexual, social and political. Auden presents in this poem a modern man who wants to extricate himself out of this embarrassing world. But there is no outlet to come out of this horrors and terrors of 20th century which has now smoothly continued to a new millennium i.e. 21st century.

      The modern man cannot come out from the dangerous situation in which he is involved. W.H. Auden has presented here the mythical figure called Daedalus who was a legendary builder of the Cretan labyrinth and maker of wings for himself and Icarus. In this manner, Daedalus succeeded in flying out of his dilemmas. But as compared to the modern man Auden asserts that he is unable to come out of this insurmountable difficulties. According to the poet the modern man is over whelmed with joy because he depends upon his ability for his material success, The modern man has based his ideology on the theory of 'getting on'. According to Auden 'getting on' implies constant endeavor to get out of the whirlpool. But all his efforts are in vain and fruitless. This is the keynote of the poem The Labyrinth.

      Modern man is at a loss as he does not get any way out of this whirlpool of modern age. He is continuously roaming and roaming to find out the gate-way but to his great surprise, he finds himself at the same point where he started. He is so ill-fated that all his attempts came out fruitless. He cannot go beyond his prediction and so remains in the same place accepting the situation what he wanted to avoid.

      The present condition of the modern man is quite disgusting. Modern man himself does not know who he is or what his destination is. He constantly toils to find out the answer of these questions but the questions remain unanswered. He hankers impatiently to solve the problem but fails. Then how will he solve his problem? Will he be doomed for ever? These are all metaphysical questions. Metaphysics implies that this world has a definite plan and no one is there to ask about this plan or violate this. But according to Auden, this philosophy is also lacking. Because it cannot solve the problem of modern man in any way; it can not give any consolation, or any peace on any solemnity in the mind of modern man, he is totally drowned in the whirlpool of maze and utter disillusionment.

      Theologians opine that the world is God-built, so God can help in escaping man from this world of disillusionment. The modern man is already drowned and entangled from all directions and, the theologians cannot solve his problem. The philosophy of the theologians is that the world which is built by God is "the universe in miniature". But this philosophy does not serve any purpose. So the poet has ridiculed the philosophy of the theologians in this stanza. The modern man remains in the same position where he was before. All his efforts go in vain and there is no way out for him.

      The physicist provide materialistic approach which implies, that the world of senses can be no valid evidence of the so-called God-built maze. The materialistic approach of the physicist has also been ridiculed by the poet. He says the physicist also can not solve the problem of the modern man. The senses of the individuals fail to give the right directions to the modern man to come out of the bewildering circumstance. The modern man is really helpless to find a way out. Where to go for solace, where to find peace, how to solve the day to day problem remains unanswered, all these problems remain unsolved. This is the 20th century and 21st century which make man simply a tool in the hands of his predicament and nothing more than that.

      In history it is said that nothing in the world moves in a straight line, The dynasty of different kings started one after another. Kings fought different battles to win over the Kingdom. But all the battles were not fought easily or ended within a short period of time. In this world of bewilderment modern man is pressed with the dominating personalities. Modern man is too timid, too coward to get an out let of this maze. Simplification of mathematicians also cannot solve the problem. Here again, the poet ridicules the mathematicians. Man has experienced that nothing can be solved in a straightway line.

      Romantic poet like Keats finds joy in the things of beauty. Keats says, "A thing of beauty is joy for ever". i.e. a beautiful thing can give solace and peace of mind. It can fill our life with happiness and thus can make us free from desolation and dissatisfaction or malaise. Moreover, it enlivens man and gives him a better future, uplifting his mind from narrowness and morbidity. But this belief of the romantic poet is also useless because it also fails to serve the purpose of modern man. Modern man is engulfed in his predicament and is bound to remain confined in this circle only. There is no way out.

      Modern man or society can not get any help from the reasoning of an introvert. Introverts are self-centred. They judge the world as himself being the center of the world. If a modern man thinks of himself like a self-centered person he will commit mistakes and will be in much difficulties. so the poet ridicules the idea of self-centeredness too. It is of no use to be self-centered because this will not be able to make the modern man to come out of the riddles among which he is totally involved. He is much more endangered. Self-centeredness can not save him from his materialistic attitude which is the cause of his bewilderment.

      Biology implies that man with good physique can solve all problems because a healthy mind resides in a healthy body. W.H. Auden is the follower of Freud. Here, he has also expressed his great reverence for Freud. He is not very particular about this theory of the divinity of Almighty father. On the other hand he has stressed the theory of Biological determination propounded by Freud. Freud feels that human urges and instincts are more important than to consider that almighty father is the embodiment of nature. In other words, Auden feels that man's physique is more important because he is responsible for creating this world.

      W.H. Auden also feels that Freudian philosophy is not always acceptable. We must keep in view some heavenly powers to solve our problems. Hence he conveys this view that heavenly or divine force is also governing us and we cannot ignore them.

      The modern man entangled by the maze is totally pressurized by the complexities. But there is no way out of all these mazes. The inertia and indolence have made the present sick culture. Hence the modern man is incapable of coming out of this maze.

      Modern man has no way to solve his problem. In all aspects - i.e. metaphysical, theology, history, aesthetic, self-centeredness, biological Determinism, Freudian philosophy modern man has failed to succeed in solving his problems with which he is totally engulfed. Nothing can provide any practical solution to the problems of modern man.

      Modern man wishes to be a bird so that he could fly away from all these mazes and make himself free from all problems. But he has failed. All the statements put a solution to the problems came out as futile and unreal. They could not provide any solution; modern man is more and more perplexed and at loss. Thus he is in a Daedalian predicament and strictly confined to his perplexities. There is no solution of his problems and thus he is in the same state from where he started to solve his problem.

Stanza-13 & 14
      Man in the Labyrinth does not know the way out. He is perplexed and wishes that he were a bird so that he could fly away out of this maze but he can't be even that. He is in a Daedalian predicament. All the statements that are mentioned before are useless because modern man after going round and round in search of a way out of the maze, finds himself at the place from where he had started.

Critical Appreciation and Analysis

      Modern man is caught up in a whirlpool from which he wants to get out, but inspite of his all-out efforts, he fails to escape his predicament. He is stuck up in the labyrinth. The modern man thinks that he can surmount nature, but he can not. Like oedipus he can not escape his fate. God had predicted that Oedipus would kill his own father. Throughout his life he had been trying to escape his fate but ultimately came to a place where four-roads crossed, and there he killed his father Louis. Therefore, in his desperation, man wants to become a bird to fly away the vicious circle of fate and miseries as he finds all the philosophies incapable to provide him any relief. The poet has made it clear through this poem that modern man, inspite of his all-out efforts, fails to escape his predicament to which he is destined. So it is clear from the poem that overage in complicated. The world is a maze. There are horrible problems. They are to be solved by the various poets, philosophers, scientists, psychologists and theologians. But mighty forces cannot be denied.

      Our contention is that faith on the moral forces will help us to cross the river which is full of floods and storms.

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