Search This Blog

Be a Member of this BLOG

Apr 13, 2019

Poems of Wystan Hugh Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden
WH Auden has two identities. He is, many would argue, the greatest English lyric poet of the 20th century. He is also, few would deny, a top-ranked American lyric poet of a rather different, more reflective character. Auden is, in one of his many parts, a religious poet, concerned as much with the human spirit as John Donne or Gerard Manley Hopkins.
The 1930s were, as he memorably put it, ‘The Age of Anxiety’ and ‘a low dishonest decade.’ Along with the so-called ‘gang’ – Spender, Christopher Isherwood and himself at the centre – he spent time in pre-Nazi Germany, cultivating personal and literary freedoms. He travelled obsessively to scenes of war, notably Spain and China. War would be, in his term, ‘the climate of his time’.  
‘Musée des Beaux Arts’
Ekphrasis poetry is a vivid, often dramatic, and verbal description of a visual work or art or scene, either real or imagined, which is produced as a rhetorical exercise by the poet. Having based on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting, ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ is not, in itself, a difficult poem, but it is baffling, if one does not know where it is coming from. The ‘Musee’ herein is the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, in Brussels.
In the Fall of Icarus, there are no seething crowds here. The painting is a parable on human aspiration. Icarus, ambitiously, flew too near the sun and plunged into the sea and was drowned after the wax holding his wings together melted. If looked carefully, one can see “the white legs disappearing into the green water.” They are dwarfed by the horse’s rump. Most visitors to the Museum miss the detail which gives the poem its title.
The poem explains “how everything turns away quite leisurely from the disaster.” Earth abides: the ploughman ploughs. Trading vessels go about their commercial business. Life goes on. The death of an unlucky aviator is of no more importance than the fall of a sparrow. Mankind deludes itself if it thinks otherwise. The poem is explaining the notorious eccentricallity of the world at the fall of Icarus, an event that was given high importance by the poets of the past—but for the modern man “it was not an important failure” and this is how it has lost its value and charm altogether, may be due to materialism.
The poem is an exquisitely written sermon, advocating stoicism, and does not mean anything without the pictures—and it is completely dependent on things outside itself.
The poem has no rhyme scheme – it’s a stream of unstructured consciousness.
The critic John Fuller argues that this was in Auden’s mind when he took the first line of ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ away from the syntax of ordinary speech: ‘About suffering they were never wrong…’ rather than, say, ‘The Old Masters were never wrong’.[ W. H. Auden: A Commentary (London: Faber, 1998), p. 266.]
Importantly, though, like Auden’s ‘The Shield of Achilles’ (1952), ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ is a poem, rather than a painting, and cannot present a variety of scenes together at the same time, backgrounded or foregrounded: it unfolds rhythmically in time, with long lines that hide tight argumentation behind its deceptively conversational tone.
'The Shield of Achilles'
'The Shield of Achilles', be warned, is Auden’s most terrible poem – terrible because it is hopeless. It is a powerful rejection of war-related violence.
War which threatened to destroy civilisation was the background to Auden’s life–from the Great War of 1914–1918, through WW2, to the cold war, with its imminent threat of planetary extinction within four minutes from the launch of the rockets. The first H-bombs, weapons of awesome destructive power, were exploded a few months before Auden published the poem.
20th-century war bore no resemblance to the heroic conflict chronicled in the oldest, greatest poem we have – Homer’s The Iliad – the story of the Trojan War. Auden had been sent, by the US military authorities to examine damage in post-war Germany. What he saw left an indelible mark on him. Equally as terrible as the actual destruction was the wasteland which modern war left: there are few more chilling lines in the whole of English verse than the stanza beginning ‘A ragged urchin.’
Some understanding of the mythological framework of the poem is necessary. Thetis, the mother of the great Greek warrior Achilles had the armourer Haphaestus forge, and ornament, a shield for her son to protect him in battle. Emblazoned on it were all the things a ‘good war’ is fought for. See the stanzas beginning ‘She looked over his shoulder.’ But what, in the age of Auschwitz, Dresden, Hiroshima, would be etched on the shield? The poem gives a grim answer.
In the poem, Auden questions the validity of traditional notions of honour and fair war in an age in which war has become mechanised and impersonal. The poem references Homer’s The Iliad, in which Thetis, mother of the warrior Achilles, asks Hephaestus to forge a shield. Achilles’ shield is beautifully engraved with scenes representing war and peace, work and leisure. In his poem, Auden re-imagines how the shield of a modern Achilles would look in the modern age, when the rules of war and the role of the hero have been rewritten. The poem explores the complex relationship between art and war, and the ethical problems that the representation of violence for aesthetic purposes entails.
The poets, as said by PB Shelley, ‘are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’ No poet of the 20th century fulfilled that role better than Auden.
In this second lecture on W.H. Auden, the relationship between art and suffering is considered in Auden’s treatment of Brueghel’s “Fall of Icarus” in the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts.” Auden’s reflections on the place of art in society are explored in the elegies “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.”

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

All Posts

A Fine Balance Absurd Drama Achebe Across the Black Waters Addison Adiga African Ages Albee Alberuni Ambedkar American Amrita Pritam Anand Anatomy of Criticism Anglo Norman Anglo Saxon Aristotle Ariyar Arnold Ars Poetica Auden Augustan Aurobindo Ghosh Backett Bacon Badiou Bardsley Barthes Baudelaire Beckeley Bejnamin Belinda Webb Bellow Beowulf Bhabha Bharatmuni Bhatnagar Bijay Kant Dubey Blake Bloomsbury Book Bookchin Booker Prize bowen Braine British Brooks Browne Browning Buck Burke CA Duffy Camus Canada Chaos Characters Charlotte Bronte Chaucer Chaucer Age China Chomsky Coetzee Coleridge Conard Contact Cornelia Sorabji Critical Essays Critics and Books Cultural Materialism Culture Dalit Lliterature Daruwalla Darwin Dattani Death of the Author Deconstruction Deridda Derrida Desai Desani Dickens Dilip Chitre Doctorow Donne Dostoevsky Dryden EB Browning Ecology Edmund Wilson Eliot Elizabethan Ellison Emile Emily Bronte English Epitaph essats Essays Esslin Ethics Eugene Ionesco Existentialism Ezekiel Faiz Fanon Farrel Faulkner Feminism Feminist Criticism in the Wilderness Ferber Fitzgerald Foregrounding Formalist Approach Forster Foucault Frankfurt School French Freud Frost Frye Fyre Gandhi Gender German Germany Ghosh Gilbert Adair Golding Gordimer Greek Gulliver’s Travels Gunjar Halliday Hard Times Hardy Hawthorne Hemingway Heyse Hindi Literature Historical Materialism History Homer Horace Hunt Huxley Ibsen In Memoriam India Indian. Gadar Indra Sinha Interview Ireland Irish Jack London Jane Eyre Japan JM Synge Johnson Joyce Joyce on Criticism Jumpa Lahiri Jussawalla Kafka Kalam Kalidasa Kamla Das Karnard Keats Kipling Langston Hughes Language Language of Paradox Larkin Le Clezio Lenin Lessing Levine Life of PI literary Criticism Luckas Lucretius Lyrical Ballads Macaulay Magazines Mahapatra Mahima Nanda Malory Mandeville Manto Manusmrti Mao Marlowe Martel Martin Amis Marx Marxism Mary Shelley Maugham McCarry Medi Media Miller Milton Moby Dick Modern Mona Loy Morrison Movies Mulk Raj Anand Mytth of Sisyphus Nabokov Nahal Naipaul Narayan Natyashastra Neo-Liberalism NET New Criticism new historicism News Nietzsche Nikita Lalwani Niyati Pathak Niyati Pathank Nobel Prize O Henry Ondaatje Orientalism Orwell Pakistan Pamela Paradise Lost Pater Pinter Poems Poetics Poets Pope Post Feminism Post Modern Post Structuralism post-Colonialism Poststructuralism Preface to Shakespeare Present Prize Psycho Analysis Psychology and Form Publish Pulitzer Prize Puritan PWA Radio Ramayana Rape of the Lock Renaissance Restoration Revival Richardson Rime of Ancient Mariner RL Stevenson Rohinton Mistry Romantic Roth Rousseau Rushdie Russia Russian Formalism Sartre Sashi Despandey Satan Sati Savitri Seamus Heaney’ Shakespeare Shaw Shelley Shiv K.Kumar Showalter Sibte Hasan Slavery Slow Man Socialism Spender Spenser Sri Lanka Stage of Development Steinbeck Stories Subaltern Sufis Surrealism Swift Tagore Tamil Literature Ted Hughes Tennyson Tennyson. Victorian Terms Tess of the D’Urbervilles The March The Metamorphsis The Order of Discourse The Outsider The Playboy of the Western World The Politics The Satanic Verses The Scarlet Letter The Transitional Poets The Waste Land The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction The Wuthering Heights Theatre of Absurd Theory Theory of Criticism Theory of Evolution Theory of Literature Thomas McEvilley Thoreau To the Lighthouse Tolstoy Touchstone Method Tughlaq Tulsi Badrinath Twain Two Uses of Language UGC-NET Ulysses Untouchable Urdu Victorian Vijay Tendulkar Vikram Seth Vivekananda Voltaire Voyage To Modernity Walter Tevis Webster Wellek West Indies Wharton Williams WJ Long Woolfe Wordsworth World Wars Writers WW-I WW-II Wycliff Xingjian Yeats Zadie Smith Zaheer Zizek Zoe Haller