W. H. Auden is considered one of the preeminent English-language poets of the twentieth century. In many ways a contradictory personality, at once prudent, revolutionary, pious, and intemperate, Auden is distinguished for his enormous intelligence, technical virtuosity, complex philosophical and moral vision, and keen wit. His prodigious output, spanning nearly a half century, includes inventive experiments with lyric and prose poetry, verse drama and notable contributions to literary criticism. He is depicted as the most influential and, in many cases, best-loved member of his generation of English poets, the generation falling between the airy heights of T.S. Eliot and the grim postmodernism of Philip Larkin. It is important to divide W.H. Auden’s career into two distinct phases, bisected, in his case, by the Second World War. The earlier poetry, particularly that of the thirties, is defined by a preoccupation with political and historical matters, while that of the forties, fifties, and particularly the sixties, is concerned with more modest affairs such as friendship and the household. There is, however, a clear shift in mid-career from peripatetic European to convivial New Yorker, when he took up residence in various apartments in New York. Around this time he also became an American citizen and embraced conservative Christianity, despite his homosexuality, which was open in his circles but hardly advertised publicly.
Auden is widely regarded as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. Though a decidedly modern poet in terms of his radical politics and bold experimentation with accepted literary forms, Auden’s idiosyncratic virtuosity and ethical perspective distinguishes him from his contemporaries. As many critics note, Auden’s striking originality stems from his counterrevolutionary appropriation of traditional poetic forms, unabashed Christian faith, and mistrust of irrationalism, all seemingly at odds with the tenets of both modernism and romanticism from which his poetry derives. While most critics view Auden’s poetry from the 1930s and early 1940s as his best, especially as found in The Orators, Another Time, and the poems “Spain,” “In Time of War,” and “New Year Letter,” controversy surrounds evaluation of the middle and later periods of his career. “New Year Letter” continues to receive much critical attention, as does the relevance of Auden’s self-imposed exile in America. Some critics believe that Auden’s poetry lost much of its imaginative power and vitality after his emigration to the United States.
Knowledge of contemporary British poetry is of great importance when it comes to understanding the reigning trends of England. The 1970s saw a fair amount of polemic concerning the discontinuities of the national "traditions," most of it concerned with poetry, all of it vulnerable to a blunt totalizing which demonstrated the triumphant ability of "nation" to organize literary study and ...
However, others contend that the contemplative Christianity and Horatian intellectualism of Auden’s American period represents the apogee of his disciplined style and sensibility. Many critics note a tendency toward obscurity in much of Auden’s poetry throughout his career, variously attributed to his liberating genius, private satire, and cloaked references to his homosexuality. Despite Auden’s significant contributions to contemporary musical theater, he remains largely unstudied as a dramatist, mainly due to the fact that the forms in which he worked have either fallen out of favor or never fully developed popular appreciation. A prolific poet of extraordinary technical dexterity, intellectual domain, engaging perspicacity, and epigrammatic wit, Auden forged a rare poetic voice that reconciled the opposing forces of tradition and modernism, for which he is hailed as a towering figure of twentieth-century literature.
In “A Lullaby”, William H. Auden argues that love between two individuals is a burden that, once we are divested of, we find a new and purer level of peace and self-satisfaction in our solitude. Auden suggests that sensual love, or rather lust for others, is an irrational torment. Although Auden’s argument is tinged with an underlying melancholy and sense of resentment that subverts his message, the poem continually and adamantly insists that love, outside of self love, is an overrated commodity. The opening stanza of “A Lullaby” serves as an extended metaphor for the peace, the respite from lust that comes with old age. This notion of desirable solitude is the core of the poem’s commentary on love. One earns the right to enjoy this sensual and singular serenity only after completing the tiresome chores of the day; these monotonous, unrewarding obligations of daily life are, in the following stanza, shown to be parallels for the libido driven struggles of youth. The fact that Auden chose to illustrate this point with Narcissus suggests that the love from others one mistakenly desires in youth, should be replaced with the self-love of Narcissus, a character that consistently admired his own form.
In Memory of WB Yeats, discussing how far you find it characteristic of other WH Auden’s poems you have studied W.H Auden’s “In Memory of W.B Yeats” is an elegy to commemorate the life and death of a great poet, W.B Yeats. However, Auden adds another dimension to the poem by incorporating political references significant during the age of oppression and turmoil of the impending war and the extent ...
This freedom, granted by age, advocated in “A Lullaby” is, in a sense, liberation from the need of others. When one attains this wisdom of Narcissus, one no longer needs other beings for fulfillment.
“Musee des Beaux Arts” by W. H. Auden is the direct illustration of the painting “Fall of Icarus” by Breughel. The main point of the poem is that the life goes on amidst suffering, miracles and disasters. In the first stanza, the author tells about real life, of how the life goes on, and everybody takes his or her own place in this world, whether they are satisfied or not. The basic premise of the poem is response to tragedy. The title refers to the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels. Auden visited the museum in 1938 and viewed the painting by Brueghel, which the poem is basically about. Generalizing at first, and then going into specifics the poem theme is the apathy with which humans view individual suffering.
Auden wrote that “In so far as poetry, or any of the arts, can be said to have an ulterior purpose, it is, by telling the truth, to disenchant and disintoxicate.”
The poem juxtaposes ordinary events and exraordinary ones, although extraordinary events seem to deflate to everyday ones with his descriptions. Life goes on while a “miraculous birth occurs”, but also while “the disaster” of Icarus’s death happens. Some have even claimed to find hints of Auden’s eventual reconversion to Christiantiy in the poem. Richard Johnson, author of “Man’s Place: An Essay on Auden”, believes there is a touch of Christian awareness in the poem, especially the timeline. The reader of the poem is placed in front of the Breughel painting in a museum, and at the same time is expected to project those images and truths to the world outside. Auden is not just figuratively observing the human condition in terms of suffering and alienation, but literally observing a painting in which he believes these aspects are present. Auden deals broadly with both forms of alienation on a large, global scale. With “Musée des Beaux Arts”, he is interested with alienation in terms of suffering, how empathy and sympathy, sparingly exercised as they are, cannot truly allow one person to feel, notice, or understand another person’s pain. He opens the poem by talking about suffering, and its implicit link to being alienated. With these lines Auden relates his premise: human suffering occurs in the vacuum of the individual, at the same time as someone else is doing mundane things.
William Butler Yeats is best known for his large contribution to the Irish Literary Renaissance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, his writing alone would have been unique enough to start a literary renaissance even if he had not been joined by fellow authors Lady Gregory, J. M. Synge, Edwin Ellis, and many others. Yeats began writing because he was inspired by the ...
In W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”, an elegy is composed not only for the passing of Yeats, but for the author’s rejection of the social viability of art as well. However, the death of William Butler Yeats is not the only loss treated in the poem. “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” represents a transitional period where Auden began losing faith in what poetry could accomplish. Therefore, the elegy recognizes a second passing, the author’s loss of faith in the political power of art. While Auden’s poem mimics the traditional elegy in form, the author functionally perverts the typical use of such a composition. Rather than lamenting these two losses, the elegiac tradition is used to become critical of both Yeats and the social efficacy of art. Bordering on the critique of Yeats in part two of the poem, Auden also contemplates the inability of poetry to be applicable in the social realm. As visibly as he confronted Yeats, Auden fundamentally challenges the idea that poetry is able to accomplish any tangible result. With a particular directness, Auden declares that “poetry makes nothing happen” (II.36).
On June 13 1865 William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin Ireland. From the start Yeats had artistic influences, due to the fact that his father Jack Butler Yeats was a noted Irish painter. He had no formal education until he was eleven, at that time he started at the Godolphin Grammar School in Hammer censored h England and later he enrolled in Erasmus Smith High School in Dublin. Throughout his ...
Though his focus is the political consequence of poetry, this line makes that idea even more poignant by denying the ability of art to accomplish anything. The least apparent venture of the poet is to elegize the loss of an ideal, his belief in the social efficacy of art. In the same way that Auden does not wholly reject Yeats; neither does the poet constitutionally deny the social presence of art by the end of his piece. However, he does conclude that both the political ambition of Yeats and the socially oriented intention of poetry are of no particular significance.
“September 1, 1939” was written on the occasion of the outbreak of World War II. The poem deliberately echoes the stanza form of W. B. Yeats’s “Easter, 1916”, another poem about an important historical event; like Yeats’ poem, Auden’s moves from a description of historical failures and frustrations to a possible transformation in the present or future.
Until the two final stanzas, the poem briefly describes the social and personal pathology that has brought about the outbreak of war: first the historical development of Germany “from Luther until now”, next the internal conflicts in every individual person that correspond to the external conflicts of the war. The final two stanzas shift radically in tone and content, turning to the truth that the poet can tell, “We must love one another or die,” and to the presence in the world of “the Just” who exchange messages of hope. The poem ends with the hope that the poet, like “the Just”, can “show an affirming flame” in the midst of the disaster.