Woods: by W. H. Auden || Summary and Analysis

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Introduction:

      Woods is one of the seven 'Bucolics', which are not conventional pastorals, but philosophical meditations on natural forces and the qualities in man that they symbolise. This poem appeared in 1952. Woods is a poem in nine stanzas. It is written in six-line rhymed stanzas of regular iambic pentameter. The rhythm of the poem are far from humdrum. The argument is that Woods constitute, not merely a location for bizarre sites or easy reduction but a concentrated expression of man's basic condition, and that a society's attitude towards its trees is a good sign of its health. Some brilliant descriptions here of sounds, as cuckoo's, doves, fruit and leaf enact their symbolism of generation and death. Auden is deeply attached to the landscape. The landscape speaks to him; it becomes symbolic to him. Auden by instincts thinks through images of landscape.

In Woods Auden comments ironically on society's decorum which has treated woods as licentious: "crown and Mitre warned their silly flocks / the pasture's humdrum rhythms to approve / And to abhor the licence of the grone." Woods in the poem constitute not merely a location for easy seduction but a concentrated expression of man's basic condition and that a society's attitude towards its trees is a good sign of its health.
Woods

Summary

Stanza-1
      The first stanza depicts the picture of the primitive nature. Piero di Cosimo through his painting presented Woods as savage. In his picture, man's life has been drawn in the earlier years of human civilisation, as brutish, when people roamed about in jungle totally naked, and when woods were infested with bears, lions and "sows with Women's heads". The primitive folk killed and ate one another. That savage and brutish civilisation did not think in terms of taming the wild beasts; nor did it think of controlling fire they did not make use of the elements of nature in the manner the present civilization is doing.

Stanza-2
      In the second stanza, the readers are transported from the primitive civilization to the modern civilization, which has raised cities by destroying woods. Woods are now reduced to patches, to estates, owned by "hunting squires". People who earlier lived together are now separated in domestic families. The political and religious authorities want the modern man to adjust himself in the humdrum life of cities, and to reject the freedom of the primitive man in nature.

Stanza-3
      In the third stanza, it is told that modern civilization is no better than the primitive one. A hotel in the present eivilization is a wood. People in this age go to hotels for wicked deeds; many a semi-innocent girls are ruined. The deprived women in our society are "Nightingales" of the primitive civilization.

Stanza-4
      In this stanza it is said that ihe primitive man was less than human. It is said from the angle of modern civilization. Auden in this stanza ironically uses the word. "Stepmother" for the modern permissive society, which believes in easy divorces, remarriage and free sexual indulgence, and as a result of which almost everybody seems to have a stepmother.

Stanza-5
      The people who are enjoying picnic are inanimate and lifeless like coffins. They are devoid of spark of life, They can be checked to lead reckless life by the public but nobody bothers about what is happening around him. A philologist, who stands for culture, can-relax in the shady woods, "where the matter of his field was made", because the language with which he is concerned was made by the people living in woods: the so-called "Gang" has usurped his place.

Stanza-6
      The modern man in the sixth stanza is not attentive to nature. Even the sounds produced by the birds are not clearly comprehensible - cuckoos mock in welsh, and doves create rustic English. In other words, the sound of birds like cuckoos ahd doves made the primitive man happy, but in the life of the modern man, the sounds of these birds have no meaning. Modern man is not interested in generation. The sounds of the birds are a symbol for generation. That is why probably modern men are not interested in generation. The modern man is concerned about rearing the family of two.

Stanza-7
      In the seventh stanza an individual of this society talks of his loneliness and the loss of the values of life. The individual becomes sad when he remembers the old joys in nature in the primitive time, or whenever he hears, close by or far off, the sound of cuckoos or doves or murmuring of the water. But the poet hopes that the generation of modern civilization is possible.

Stanza-8
      The poet in the eighth stanza says that modern society has no law; it is like a "well-kept forest". But inspite of this condition of modern society the poet is hopeful about the present society. To the poet it has enough decency. The trees reflect the country's soul and make us hopeful about future.

Stanza-9
      The present civilization cannot befool the people in the name of progress. If woods are well-kept the culture is also well-kept by that. If woods are destroyed, the destruction of modern culture invariably is to take place.

Critical Appreciation

      In Woods Auden comments ironically on society's decorum which has treated woods as licentious: "crown and Mitre warned their silly flocks / the pasture's humdrum rhythms to approve / And to abhor the licence of the grone." Woods in the poem constitute not merely a location for easy seduction but a concentrated expression of man's basic condition and that a society's attitude towards its trees is a good sign of its health. The idea in the poem produce an emotional reaction. Just as many people can genuinely love mankind but feel indifferent about most individuals, so Auden can love Nature and be indifferent or even partly hostile to some specific manifestation of it. Woods may be warmly celebrated, but as for those actual, leafy, rough-barked vegetables, Auden approaches them like his eighteenth century ancestors picnicking among the verbal woods. Auden differs from these faded elegants only in being completely aware of the artificiality of his indulgent Romanticism. He can therefore indulge and mock his indulgence at the same time. According to John Fuller, in this lyric the poet comments ironically, on society's prized decorum which has treated woods as the residue of the primitive and dangerously indisciplined. The rhythms of the poem are far from humdrum, and in the last stanza take on a rile-producing Empsonian menace. The argument is that woods constitute, not merely a location for bizarre rites or easy seduction, but a concentrated expression of man's basic condition and thata society's attitude towards its trees as a good sign of its health.

      In the poem Woods we get an instance of 18th century poetic diction. The lyric also presents Auden's habit of giving mock-definitions. The Woods are defined as a hotel, "that wants no details, and surrenders none." The 18th century poetic diction is revealed in the line - "Though crown and Mitre warned their silly flocks". This stately, lofty diction is mingled with slang words and phrases as "And lower-ordersy the Gang". In this way Auden achieves a mocking, non-serious tone, and even serious subjects are given a comic treatment. Woods is written in six-line rhymed stanzas of regular iambie pentameter. A flavour of the eighteenth-century poetic diction in the first two stanzas fit the exposition of the old ideas of sylvan nature as savage and licentious. The truth, the poet argues is opposite. The innocent and calm of plant life make the public "Bridle its skirt and bargain chasing eye", and trees are an index to a country's soul and probable future: "A culture is no better than its words."

Conclusion:

      Auden's Woods is a philosophical meditation on natural forces and the qualities in man. In this lyric the poet "writes ostensibly of nature, but never of nature as a sensuous thing. He describes not thee three-dimensional affective object, or even his emotive reaction to that object, but his response to ideas about physical nature". The ideas produce ar emotional reaction, however, love, - love for the concept of nature.

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