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Three prototypes of W. H. Auden’s Poetry: 1st September 1939, Spain 1937, and In Time of War: Sonnet XVI,

“His work to examine poetry with a coroner’s or detective’s clinical eye conceives of poetry as engaged with history and society”

Loris Mirella (on W.H. Auden), “Realigning Modernism”

Auden’s poems “Spain, 1937”, “Sonnet XVI”, and “1st September 1939” all testify to the English poet’s “clinical” detachment, a feature of his writing. Rather than separating him from the topic-matter, the sense of objectivity so characteristic of the poems serves to boost the complete expositions of a decade of war and emotional fatigue.

The basic structure of W.H. Auden’s poem “Sonnet XVI” – it requires the kind of an Italian sonnet, though it resembles its Shakespearean counterpart in its rhyming scheme – contrasts strongly with the sprawling cost-free verse of “Spain”, an account of the four-year-lengthy civil war (1936 – 1939). Similarly, “1st September” differs from the other individuals in form, resembling a combination of the two, with a rhyming scheme of sorts and tighter lines which, for the most portion, contain no more than seven syllables. Most drastically, although, this last poem breaks from the author’s characteristic distance from his subject, a detachment Fountain (2007) refers to as “Auden’s panoptic view” (171). This essay will consider the three poems individually, and try to show that even though the poet personalises the decade in “1st September”, opening the piece with the first-person signifier, “I”, he does not preclude the possibility of the poet engaging with pressing social and political problems. Rather, the synoptic approach enables Auden to address civic issues on an person level, allowing the reader to determine with the citizen of the late-thirties who, along with his compatriots, repeats to himself what he knows to be correct: “ ‘I will be accurate to the wife, / I’ll concentrate more on my work,’ ”.

The opening lines of “Sonnet XVI” evoke the physical and emotional gulf that divides the political tacticians, military best brass, and these not involved in the conflict from the ordinary front-line soldier. The stark opening image of war becoming “simple like a monument” immediately suggests society’s inability to recognize the complex implications war has for a society. Even as a commemoration erected in goodwill and remembrance, a stone structure is a vain try to bridge the emotional, physical and psychological gap amongst those involved in and impacted by the war and those who have been not. Certainly, Willis (2002) goes so far as to state that “the opening image of war as a monument … reveals that man commemorates the terror and glory of war, killing and waste” (38).

The three subsequent photos following the colon at the finish of the first line are just as striking as the very first. They, also, pursue the notion of war’s disconnection from humanity till the fourth line, when a servant brings in milk to drink, the only animate objects are flags and a phone. In addition, Auden’s use of the present participle in the second line – “A phone is speaking to a man” – increases the discomfort currently instilled in the reader by the severity of the very first line. The telephone assumes a human distinctiveness, and carries with it, constantly it appears, a perverse, disembodied energy to instruct. The only indication that a war is being waged is the “Flags on a map”, and the notion of war as an abstraction is emphasized by this indirect reference to the conflict. Each image so far has pointed has acted only as a signifier, pointing to the war. In addition, the diction is such that extremely handful of words exceed a single syllable, a function that ensures the reader’s interest is not diverted from the pictures themselves. The very same feature of the poem’s language simultaneously restricts the pictures to abstract reflections of a tactical war-room.

Referring to the piece’s ambiguous form, exhibiting as it does functions of an Italian as nicely as a Shakespearean sonnet, Willis (2002) says, “This twist on look, the play on actuality, also penetrates the argument of the sonnet, which contrasts the referential issues of language to its referential energy.” (37) What she suggests is that although the initial quatrain presents an abstraction, the second stanza provides the actuality of the situation – the information of the war itself. The bipartite kind of the poem hence mirrors the content of the piece, which seems split more than every single half of the poem. Although the complexity of the language does not modify, and the pattern of monosyllabic words continues, the intensity of the photos increases. Emotive words and phrases such as “living men”, “terror”, “thirst” (repeated twice in line 6), and “die” permeate the second quatrain, bringing alive the reality of the conflict. In addition, the inclusion of the times “nine” and “noon” refer the otherwise intangible conflict to a familiar day-to-day routine. Away from the intellectual obscurity of the war room, where inanimate objects represent the ongoing realities, the message is vivid and unambiguous: guys are suffering and dying. This juxtaposition of the two verses is maybe most striking in the way in which the initial stanza leads into the second – “There is a plan / For living men in terror of their lives” – whereby it becomes immediately evident that the “plan”, straight linked to the removed war room, has manifest implications for the soldiers.

The “referential difficulties of language” to which Willis makes mention – the gap between word, or signifier, and meaning, which the very first quatrain evidences so strongly – requires on a diverse light as the sonnet proceeds into its final sestet. The initial line of the third stanza – “But concepts can be true though men die” – suggests that an idea, which is abstract by nature, is not necessarily a negative point, even though males may possibly die defending it. In this case, “language’s referential power” is immense. No longer removed from action, the language of an thought is perceived as an active, animating thing. Males are killed simply because of an idea likewise, the narrator notes that “we can watch a thousand faces / Produced active by a single lie”.

The notable inclusion of the initial-person “we” in the third stanza is significant, as the sonnet moves steadily towards its end. Apart from the 1st word of the poem, “Here”, there has as yet been no indication of the narrator’s presence, or interest, in the events. Following the pattern of the piece, although, in which abstraction has steadily given way to specifics, the speaker recognizes that he makes up part of an on seeking community. In doing so, he additional crystallizes the notion of war, which language at very first could not adequately describe. Likewise, the narrator’s original “panoptic view” zooms in from the troops to their faces. The final sestet exists as a single sentence held collectively by two colons, and as each line’s meter decreases steadily from iambic pentameter to nine syllables, then six, then 4 with the closing line, the war climactically leaves the purely referential symbolism of a map: “And maps can really point to areas / Where life is evil now: / Nanking Dachau.” As Willis (2002) concludes, “while the octave displays the problematic nature of abstraction in language and believed, the sestet celebrates the representational energy of words.”

In contrast to the tight structure of “Sonnet XVI”, a poem which concentrates mostly on the subject of man’s attitude towards war, relying on form to augment the content, “Spain” sprawls. Its expansive language – utterly various to the sparse, monosyllabic words of “Sonnet” – and cost-free verse permits Auden to explore extensively not only the Spanish Civil War, but the reasons for war itself in the early 20th century. The poem begins with a synopsis of Man’s progression by means of the ages, taking into consideration all nature of issues from religion, to economics, to science. The repetition of “yesterday” is gradually overcome by the refrain, “But to-day the struggle”, as the piece moves on to consider the present, and then ultimately the future. Of the 3 poems regarded here, “Spain” presents the greatest instance of Auden’s ‘panoptic view’, as he attempts to consider all achievable elements of humanity’s movement towards war, and the possibilities that may possibly present themselves in the future. Indeed, Fountain (2007) asserts, “By detailing the minutiae that contribute to this improvement [of conflict], Auden addresses the general idea of war, rather than merely 1 of its several historical examples.” (171)

“Marching rapidly via the centuries, Auden depicts the gradual separation of males from the natural globe and the increasing reliance of men upon an intermediary tool among them and Nature: the applications and inventions of science. Soon it is apparent that most males have little control more than the forces they have designed to manipulate nature.” (Bone 1972: 4)

Here, Bone refers first to Man’s concentration on economics and wealth – “the trade-routes” and “the counting-frame”, as properly as “the cromlech”, representative of religion’s entrance into society. The “applications and inventions of science” ultimately stick to, 1st in the form of “cart-wheels and clocks”, and eventually turn into indispensable. Most pertinent, even though, is his comment relating to Man’s “little control more than the forces they have created”, specially taking into consideration the many cries for help from the a variety of characters.

Drastically, the very first of these cries comes from the poet: “ ‘O my vision. O send me the luck of the sailor.’ ” Speaking of Auden, Mirella (1992) states that the poet “conceives of engagement or activity in terms of the poet’s involvement. Auden’s therapy of the figure of the poet varies from all-strong to impotent.” (102) The poet, depicted as he is in the midst of nature, exhorts rather than cries, but is however reliant on some thing else other than himself for inspiration. He seems to strive toward a truth “among the pines”, totally free form the modern day inventions, but cannot really grasp the enlightenment he seeks. The ineffectiveness of his efforts is revealed by his link to the scientist-investigator’s endless search for data. The poet, like the scientist, might sooner or later be successful in his search, but the repetition of “I inquire, I inquire” emphasizes the impotence with which each navigators of their professions go about their job.

In the very same way that “Sonnet XVI” depicts the abstractness of war as becoming the enduring aspect of its inhumanity, so the cries of the poet, the investigator, the poor and the nations, invoking an intangible “life”, illustrate the pervasive despair brought on by the civil war. Before this, even, they call on “History the operator, the / Organizer, Time the refreshing river.” Their exclamations contrast human society and nature, but the imagery is conflated so that even nature is implicated in the conflict as they ask, “ ‘Did you not identified when the city state of the sponge, / ‘Raise the vast military empires of the shark / And the tiger, establish the robin’s plucky canton?’ ” The outcome is that the omnipotent God they invoke appears significantly less as a benevolent saviour, but rather as an all-strong, callous being. Indeed, the degenerative plea, which appeals to God to “ ‘Intervene, O descend as a dove or / A furious papa or a mild engineer’ ”, ends by representing the Almighty precisely as, in the view of the narrator, the principal creator of the war : “an engineer”. The piece up to then portrays man’s ‘evolution’, specifically connected to his move away from nature and growing dependence on machinery, as the enabling element in war. The seemingly contradictory hyperlink among God and war striking, and predicates the ominous reply.

With particular reference to God’s response, Fountain (2007) states that “the persona contends that even God has been nurtured via historical evolution, has been claimed by the hands of man.” (172) God is described as the “ ‘Yes-man, the bar-companion, the effortlessly-duped: I am what ever you do I am your vow to be / Great, your humorous story / I am your organization voice I am your marriage.’ ” Religion has been eroded to the point that there is no sanctity in the idea of God. However, just as “Sonnet XVI” suggests, in its the lines “And we can watch a thousand faces / Created active by one particular lie”, the energy an notion carries, so this new notion of God directly impacts society.

The final sentence the narrator attributes to God is this, “ ‘Very properly, I accept, for / I am your option, your decision: yes, I am Spain.’ ” Each the culmination of the stanza and an anti-climax – a climactic anti-climax, perhaps – this line is important to understanding the narrator’s intention in positing the causes for man’s descent into violence. The thought of Spain, as represented by the narrator, is not a detached excellent espoused by the elite of society. Rather, the similarities among “Sonnet” and “Spain” as soon as once more become apparent, as the concept of Spain can be related to the notion that “can be correct although males die”. Specific mention is created of “the suicide pact, the romantic / Death”, denoting the precise nature of the idea. That it is a “choice”, a “decision” agreed upon by all sorts of guys – the yes-man, the bar-companion, the effortlessly-duped, the all-encompassing “you” the ambiguous God-like perfect addresses, further entrenches the paradoxical specificity of the amorphous, character-changing idea.

To continue the comparison amongst “Sonnet” and “Spain”, it is exciting to note how the latter poem’s focus moves from a long-distance examination of the past to at some point present the nation as getting element of the earth’s terrain, even describing the country as if actually positioning it on a map: “On that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot / Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe, / On that tableland scored by rivers”. This is specially striking in what Fountain (2007) terms “the final phase” (174) of “Spain”. Spain, previously elevated to a God-like status and offered its personal voice, is described in terms of its landmarks and individuals. The section of the poem starting, “Many have heard it on remote peninsulas,” and ending with, “To-morrow the bicycle races” includes the most regularly vivid imagery in the poem, most of it describing Spain the nation. Not surprisingly, the pastoral photos of Spain that occur by means of the three descriptive stanzas, in which its people are described as “migrating like gulls or the seeds of a flower”, contrast strongly with the “fever’s menacing shapes [which] are precise and alive”. The outcome of this close inspection of Spain, as if the investigator had been peering via 1 of his instruments and noting his findings, is to calcify the excellent of Spain as an actual spot.

Regarding the final lines of “Sonnet”, at the point exactly where Nanking and Dachau are named as “places exactly where life is evil now”, Berger (1997) asserts that “they are granted characteristics, marks of identity … even though vestiges of schematic or anonymous portrayal nonetheless stay.” (4) Similarly, although the narrator indulges in a section of precise imagery in which “Yesterday” – the past – is contextualized, he quickly returns to the panoptic lens which characterizes this poem and other folks. “To-morrow”, and lastly, “To-day”, becomes the new refrain, bringing with it the anonymities of a broad time marker. The actualities of Spain, the strong, exact imagery which grant Spain and its people identity are substituted for abstractions such as “the future”, “consciousness”, “romantic love”, and “liberty”. In this sense, the poem ends where it begins, with a synopsis of the present and the future. The summary of what may happen is of certain reference to Spain, but the “vestiges of anonymous portrayal”, the withdrawal from distinct specifics which would link the descriptions to Spain exclusively, makes it possible for the narrator to present Spain and the Spanish Civil War as a model war, and the reasons for its occurrence assume universal qualities.

Of “September”, Miller (2003) states:

“To see encoding in the poem, 1 can divide it into a macro and micro reading and observe how the two interweave and typically create two separate subjects. On the macro scale, the dawn of Planet War II, Nazi Germany, and an erudite damning of the historicity of the world are present: “Mismanagement and grief: We should suffer them all again”. Employing a micro scale paints a various picture, arguably a self-portrait: “I sit in 1 of these dives / On Fifty-second Street / Uncertain and afraid / […] / Faces along the bar” (116)

Although Miller’s principal interest is examining the homoerotic encoding in Auden’s poetry, his point is applicable to my argument that while Auden drops his panoptic lens, employing an ordinary Kodak as an alternative (to extend the metaphor) to contemplate the individual’s perspective, his piece is informed mostly by the social and political problems similar to those of the two preceding poems regarded.

Contemplating the content of the poem is a palpable mix amongst the micro and macro approaches noticed in “Sonnet XVI” and “Spain”, it is probably fitting that “September’s” structure reveals a mixture of the two. The sprawling free verse of “Spain” is limited to shorter lines, much more economical in their imagery. And even though there is no rhyme scheme – as you would anticipate in a sonnet, for instance – to speak of, interspersed all through the piece are glimpses of the order that rhyme affords a piece. In the 1st stanza, for example, “afraid” is paired with “decade” further on, “bright” with “light”, and “earth”, somewhat discordantly, with “death”. The very same function is evident in the second stanza, amongst “mad” and “made” with the very same jarring impact. The final lines after once more have a foreboding effect: “What all schoolchildren discover, / Those to whom evil is done / Do evil in return”. The end-rhyme in between “learn” and “return” provides the quick lines a moralizing tone, reminiscent of an epigram given to kids to understand by heart. The trivializing effect of the stanza’s closing lines is an intense example of the effects of the rhyming scheme of the poem, but its impact can be applied much more normally to the piece. Getting come across one or two of these finish-rhymes, the reader expects far more, tries to determine a rhythm, but, but cannot. The haphazard structure is disconcerting, and so, line by line, the poet infuses the piece with a mood of unrest.

One particular aspect of the poem’s type which hyperlinks to the seemingly random rhyming scheme discussed above is, which but lends a sense of rhythm, the brief, sharp lines which give the poem its quick pace. The reader is obliged to skim down the page, not allowed the extravagance of having to study unhurriedly across it. Furthermore, only 1 sentence constitutes each and every stanza, the only key punctuation getting colons and semicolons, which in no way very separate the simple or complex believed approach. Thinking about that the poem is narrated from a initial-particular person perspective and the events are told in the present tense, it is reasonable to conclude that we, the reader, are privy to the narrator’s believed processes. Mirella (1992) describes poetry as “a pure stylistic and uncircumscribed practice most elementally embodied in modernism. … Excellent art, critics postulate, needs absolute detachment from all non-artistic issues, a full fidelity to the medium of one’s craft in this case, to language.” (96) Auden, even as component of the modernist movement, does not method Eliot, Joyce, or Woolf in their experimental operates, but “September” still exhibits a particular preoccupation with language. The single-sentence stanzas, with the brief, straightforward lines that bounce quickly from one particular image to the subsequent and from one particular abstract thought to one more, have a resemblance to the stream-of-consciousness technique employed most famously by Joyce and Woolf. The overarching effect is to give the reader an intimate appear into the consciousness of the narrator and, by association, the ordinary particular person, as he repeatedly allies himself with them utilizing the very first-particular person pronouns, “we” and “our”.

According to Mirella (1992), “From Auden’s point of view, the celebration of the new poetry, “the new season” of writing, alters significantly, and by the begin of Globe War II, he is pessimistic about the function of poetry and of the poet: …” (97) Although he does not lose faith entirely in poetry’s function in society, perceiving as he does “engagement or activity in terms of the poet’s involvement”, specific lines of “September” suggest that he does commence to doubt the transcendental power of language which modernism’s detachment, as art for art’s sake, imbued it with. This doubt is most specifically exemplified by four lines in the fourth stanza:

“Into this neutral air / Exactly where blind skyscrapers use / Their complete height to proclaim / The strength of Collective Man, / Every single language pours its vain / Competitive excuse: / But who can reside for lengthy / In an euphoric dream”.

Here the narrator makes reference to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. The popular Old Testament account of how a group of guys failed to create a tower to attain to the heavens since of the issues in understanding every single other is apt here, as it is language itself which thwarts man’s efforts to transcend his present circumstance, to become more powerful than what he is.

Incidentally, this image of the inadequacy of the “blind skyscraper” which, the narrator suggests ironically, demonstrates Collective Man’s authority over his surroundings, hyperlinks strongly with “Spain’s” concern with machinery. Engineering fails to unite man in either “Spain” or “September”, painting a bleak picture of man’s supposed advancement. Indeed, they have come no further than their Old Testament counterparts.

The narrator’s pessimistic take on language extends by way of the stanzas. In the third, he speaks of “The elderly rubbish they [dictators] talk / To an apathetic grave Analysed all in his book, / The enlightenment driven away”, and in the fourth he mentions “The windiest militant trash / Essential Persons shout”. This concentrate on the deadening effect of propaganda is a single of the poem’s most direct criticisms of the political leadership at the time. Once much more, the narrator deconstructs the myth of man’s advancement, invoking the Philosophy of Ancient Greece, in the kind of Thucydides. “Democracy”, as an perfect, is presented with an uppercase “D”, emphasizing what man has discovered to be its abstractness and elusiveness. Most pointedly, though, the narrator’s reference to Thucydides’ book is an explicit evoking of words. The words and thoughts laid down in the book have turn into Truth, in that they tell of how the speech on “Democracy” that will constantly be the exact same, how dictators distort and proper words to additional their own interests, and how man’s rule will often finish in “Mismanagement and grief”.

What Auden/the narrator assumes to be the impotence of language is summed up in the most private terms in the commuters’ morning vow: “ ‘I will be correct to the wife, / I’ll concentrate more on my function,’ ”. Never, however, does the narrator discount the dual nature of words. The abstractness of words revealed time and once more in Auden’s poetry, from the first stanza of “Sonnet XVI” to the peoples’ cries to History and Time in “Spain”, is 1 aspect, represented in “September” by the Babel-like failure to collaborate to develop a potent structure. The other, nevertheless, is language’s immense energy to bring alive plans and concepts, a energy which can result in war and death. The narrator addresses this aspect, most poignantly, in the final lines of the penultimate stanza: “Who can release them now, / Who can attain the deaf, / Who can speak for the dumb?” Words subjugate a nation, utilized as they are as propaganda for a dictator, and those without energy, such as the ordinary man who can only repeat the identical, empty vow on his way to perform, becomes disenfranchised with no hope, it would seem, of regaining individual autonomy.

Moving towards its conclusion, the poem after once again takes on an intensely individual tone: “May I, composed like them / Of Eros and of dust, / Beleaguered by the very same / Negation and despair, / Show an affirming flame.” The narrator’s resolute want to engage with the “social dissolution and chaotic destruction” (Mirella 1992: 98) is affirmed by the strong alliteration of “affirming flame”. Additionally, in contrast to the youngster-like rhyme of the very first stanza, these five lines present a fervent and robust identification of the narrator with “the Just”, the “them”. These are lines which point to the individual, as well as the corporal suffering. This, along with the title of poem, which signifies the begin of World War II, 1 of the most extensively-affecting events in modern history, lifts the narrator’s micro-view of a bar in New York City, which includes the need of an individual “I”, so that it assumes the exact same comprehensiveness of the panoptic expositions of “Spain” and, to an extent, “Sonnet XVI”. Even more, though, “September” points to Auden’s capability to determine with the individual and his each day humanity, a capability which ensures his enduring involvement in the social affairs of the time and, eventually, vindicates his poetry, despite its reliance on words, the treacherous things he believes them to be.
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