Essay Plans

1) In the thirties, Auden’s political poems assumed they had the power to affect attitudes. Discuss

It should be considered more generally what Auden considered the role of the poet to be and indeed how he viewed himself and his own poetry. "In memory of W.B.Yeats" should be considered, where he writes "For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its saying….it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth". In the final three stanzas he uses many imperatives, exhorting the poet to some how make a difference; "persuade us….make a vineyard…sing of….teach". "September 1st 1939" should also be considered here where he asserts "All I have is a voice / to undo the folded lie….", "Ironic points of light flash out…." , "May I….show an affirming light". He seems to acknowledge here that the tools of the poet are limited.

It should also be considered how the poems are directed at the reader and why they are directed in a particular way. Is he attempting to direct attitudes, he is displaying a futility or is he simply asking us to be aware?

Auden views a society in decay and questions its causes such as capitalism (nb the Wall Street Crash of 1929) and the Freudian notions of effects of individual neuroses; "the lie of Authority", "there is no such thing as a state" ("September 1st 1939").

The poems should be placed in a social / historical context and thus proving that Auden felt there was something that they needed to prove and attitudes which needed to be changed.

Look at: "Who stands at the crux…"

"Consider this…"

"O what is that sound…"

"September 1st 1939"

"In Memory of W.B.Yeats"

2) Discuss the notions of war and conflict within Auden’s work.

The effect of war on a weak society is a topic broached mainly in "O what is that sound..." and "Refugee Blues". In the former the references to war are more generalized i.e "scarlet soldiers", "Weapons", "their horses". Such imagery is timeless, almost hackneyed nonetheless they represent an attacking force and place pressure on the couple at the center of the poem. In turn this leads to conflict between them: "Where those vows you swore me deceiving, deceiving?". In the latter poem we are shown a more localized view of the effect of individuals in society. There is a direct reference to "Hitler over Europe": a poem about what it is to be in exile.

In "Who stands at the crux…" there is a conflict between the old and the new - between the old mining industry and that which has crushed it i.e. the new mechanical world: "Industry already comatose" against the "young stock".

War and invasion are the subject of a number of Auden’s poems. In "Consider this…" this is hinted at through references to "helmeted airmen" and the "cigarette smouldering on the border" could this indicate that borders are easier to cross? The "supreme Antagonist" and "polar peril" also pose threats. In "September 1st 1939" the allusions to war are much more direct, he shows a concern for how wars grip a nation and become a national obsession: "obsessing our private lives". He indicates how indiscriminate war is; "circulate over the bright / and darkened lands of the earth" and he hints at Hitler and foreign invasion as he asks "what occurred at Linz" and his reference to "A psychopathic god". We are shown the effect that the war and the "lie of Authority" have upon society: "Faces along the bar / cling to their average day".

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