W. H. Auden A Representative Modern Poet of the 1930s

An Outstanding Modern Poet: 

W. H. Auden is an outstanding modern poet, standing next only to W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot. He justified throughout his career the position he quickly attained as the leader of a generation that followed Yeats and Eliot. He may not be as profound as Yeats or Eliot, but he is “an intelligent, sensitive, fluent and generous man of his age”, and his poetry is a great civilizing force. The place and significance of this civilizing force can never be obliterated from the pages of the history of English poetry.

W. H. Auden A Representative Modern Poet of the 1930s
 W. H. Auden A Representative Modern Poet of the 1930s


A Representative Poet of 1930s: 

Auden, like T. S. Eliot, is a representative poet of the 1930s. His characteristic work has always shown an acute consciousness of the modern situation as perceived by the intelligentsia of the time. His poetry of the 1930s is related to the discontents, the mingled sense of guilt and frustration among the upper, upper middle, and professional classes in England after the First World War. He captured the mood of our time. He was ‘modern’, he spoke of the time in which he lived, and dealt with contemporary ideas and topical events. He gave expression to the modern sense of loss as The Waste Land presented. City Without Walls, Auden's last volume published in his life time , presented the 20th century ethos as forcefully as his earliest volume Poems 1930 attacked a decaying society .

The Modernity of His Sensibility: 

Auden's poetry is made of experiences directly gained from a close understanding of life and a profound concern about its problems. Ours is the age of disintegration, uncertainty and anxiety, and Auden has rightly named it as the ‘Age of Anxiety’. Auden's concern with the political and social situation in the thirties, his employment of the modern, psychological theories in the interpretation of man's inner dilemmas, his emphasis on the multi-dimensional of man, his treatment of the problem of anxiety and despair in man's life, and his final acceptance of religious humility and faith as the unerring solution of these problems place him in the forefront of the representative writers of the 20th century. 

The Use of Modern Technique in Poetry: 

The stylistic and technical devices employed by Auden in his poetry are modern, too. Younger poets of our time found in him a stylistic chameleon and his technical skill an object of curiosity and envy. He wrote all kinds of poetry in all kinds of styles which is amazing. Even in the small amount of poetry he had written in 1937, he made use of numerous devices. He experimented with new styles ranging from the prose of Henry James ' late works to the nursery rhymes of Edward Lear. In between he wrote parodies, songs, ballads, operas, etc. He wanted to explore the potentialities of all possible forms and see what he could do with them. His most brilliant piece of technical virtuosity is Canzone (1945) where sixty - five lines employ only five rhyme words altogether. Since 1945 Auden created for himself a number of new forms which are as challenging as some of the traditional forms. Arbitrary imagery and unusual diction are the natural consequences of the rhyme and line length used, but they help to hide the harshness of language as in Streams. In technical virtuosity Auden is unsurpassable. 

His Modernity in the Use of Imagery: 

Auden is modern in his use of imagery. The world of science and industry provides Auden with one of his most pervasive types of images. He shows a remarkable capacity to turn the images from the modern civilization of poetic advantage more often than almost any other poet of his age except Eliot. It is through the use of such images as ramshackle engine, rusting rails, deserted mine, unbuilt bridges, smokeless chimneys, evening like a coloured photograph, telegraph pole, drawing room's civilized cry, negative inversion , the private nocturnal terror, barbed wire , airport , coffee - coloured honey , loud explosions , flu infected city , eye of the camera , fractured towns , a silver cocktail shaker , a transistor radio , and several other images of the ordinary life of the present used mainly in the poems of About the House that the effect of modernity is produced on the one hand , and prodigies of the modern civilization are depicted on the other . It is earthly city that looms large in Auden's poetry , and the modern industrial and urban images form an important part of the earthly city which is contrasted with the images of the ideal city , the juster life , and the heavenly city of faith . 

Complexity of Language: 

The main characteristic which strikes us is the extremely difficult nature of his poetry. This difficulty, even obscurity, arises from the extreme density and epigrammatic terseness of his style. He often writes telegraphic style in which connections, conjunctions, articles, even pronouns, are often missing. Further difficulty is created by his frequent use of the terminology of modern psychology. However, it should be mentioned that with the passing of time his style became more clear and lucid, and easy to understand.

A Ceaseless Experimenter with Verse Forms: 

Auden was a ceaseless experimenter with verse - forms and stanza - pattern. He began with using conventional 19th century metres, and he continued to use conventional verse - forms upto the very end. However, gradually he took more and more to the use of free verse i.e., verse which has been freed from the bondage of metre. Often he uses a long flowing line which approximates closely to the condition of prose. In his Christian poetry as his diction grows simpler, his rhythms become colloquial and conversational. 

The Use of Archaic Words, Transformation of Parts of Speech and Figurative language: 

Auden uses a number of stylistic devices to convey his meaning exactly and accurately. He coins new words, and does not hesitate to use archaic, obsolete and unfamiliar, unusual words if they suit his purpose. Abstract nouns are personified and written with a capital letter. Similarly, adjectives are turned into nouns by the use of ‘The’ before them. In all these ways he makes his diction concrete and picturesque. The Auden Simile has become notorious, and so is his use of long catalogues to convey an idea of the complexity and variety of modern life. He is rhetorical and high - sounding, when it suits his purpose. 

A Typically Modern Poet: 

W. H. Auden is a typically modern poet. It is certain that though he was old - fashioned or traditional in his views about the role of the poet, in his desire to seek a large audience and to instruct and improve them, he dealt with contemporary ideas and topical events could turn inward when he wanted and leave his poetry as obscure as any modern poet. He gave expression to the modern sense of loss and anxiety without the apparatus of polyglot scholarship such as The Waste Land presented. Of Modern English poets, Auden ranks in importance next only to T. S. Eliot. Like others of his time, he aims at brevity, condensation rather at diffuseness and elaboration. He stands out among modern poets by his earnest effort to be a great modern thinker. He is well versed in history, philosophy and theology and shows a remarkable grip on contemporary currents of thought in political theory, science and psy

Saurabh Gupta

My name is Saurabh Gupta. I have designed this blog to help those students and people who are greatly interested to get knowledge about English Literature. This blog provides precious knowledge and information about English Literature and Criticism.

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