Poems: W. H. Auden [21 February 1907 - 29 September 1973]
1. September 1, 1939
W.H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939" is one of the most powerful and influential poems of the 20th century. Written in the aftermath of the outbreak of World War II, the poem reflects on the political turmoil of the time, the rise of totalitarianism, and the sense of despair and anxiety that many people felt as they faced an uncertain future.
One of the most powerful aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. Auden uses vivid and evocative language to paint a picture of a world in crisis. He describes the "cracked tin tray" of the moon, the "thugs" who "can be heroes," and the "blind skyscrapers" that tower over the city.
Throughout the poem, Auden reflects on the idea of love and its role in the world. He writes that "we must love one another or die," and that love is the only way to overcome the forces of hatred and violence that threaten to destroy us. This idea is central to the poem, and it has resonated with readers for generations.
In the final stanza of the poem, Auden reflects on the role of poetry in times of crisis. He writes that "poetry makes nothing happen," but that it can provide comfort and solace to those who are struggling. He suggests that poetry can offer a way to transcend the limitations of the present moment, and to imagine a better future.
"September 1, 1939" is a powerful and moving poem that reflects on the political turmoil of the 20th century. Its vivid imagery, its powerful message of love and hope, and its reflection on the role of poetry in times of crisis have made it one of the most enduring works of literature of the past century.
2. In Memory of W. B. Yeats
The poem is structured in four parts, each of which explores a different aspect of Yeats' life and work. The first part is a meditation on Yeats' poetry, and the ways in which it reflects the tensions and contradictions of his time. Auden writes that Yeats was able to "make us feel the tumultuous events he lived through" and that his poetry "mirrored the contradictions of his time."
The second part of the poem is a reflection on Yeats' personal life, and the ways in which his poetry was shaped by his experiences. Auden writes that Yeats was "no easy personality" and that his poetry was marked by a sense of "unresolved conflict." He suggests that Yeats' personal struggles were a key part of his creative process, and that his poetry was a way of working through those conflicts.
The third part of the poem is a tribute to Yeats' legacy, and the ways in which his poetry continues to resonate with readers today. Auden writes that Yeats was a "master of the artifice of eternity" and that his work continues to inspire and challenge readers to this day.
The final part of the poem is a reflection on the role of poetry in the modern world. Auden suggests that poetry has lost some of its power in the modern era, as we have become more cynical and skeptical of its ability to change the world. He writes that "poetry makes nothing happen," but that it can still provide comfort and solace to those who are struggling.
Overall, "In Memory of W.B. Yeats" is a powerful and moving tribute to one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. Auden's exploration of Yeats' life and work, as well as his reflection on the role of poetry in the modern world, make this poem a timeless and enduring work of literature. It serves as a reminder of the power of poetry to inspire and transform us, and the importance of honoring those who have dedicated their lives to this craft.
3. Epitaph on a Tyrant
The poem is structured as an epitaph, a memorial inscription that is typically written on a tombstone. In this case, the epitaph is written for a fictional tyrant, whose name is not given. The poem reflects on the characteristics of this tyrant, and the ways in which he abused his power.
The first stanza of the poem sets the tone, describing the tyrant as "Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after." This line is a clear indication that the tyrant is not simply a madman or a monster, but someone who was driven by a desire for control and order. The line also suggests that the tyrant's pursuit of perfection is what ultimately led to his downfall.
The second stanza of the poem describes the ways in which the tyrant maintained his power, through "fear and the fire of hate." This line is a reminder of the tactics used by many dictators to maintain their grip on power, through the use of propaganda, censorship, and violence.
The final stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as it reflects on the legacy of the tyrant and the lessons that can be learned from his life. Auden writes that "He held on tight and rode out the storm," suggesting that the tyrant was able to survive for a time, despite the damage that he inflicted. However, the final lines of the poem serve as a warning, reminding us that "In the nightmare of the dark/All the dogs of Europe bark."
Overall, "Epitaph on a Tyrant" is a haunting and powerful poem that serves as a warning against the dangers of political power. The poem is a call to remember the lessons of the past and to remain vigilant against the forces of tyranny and oppression. Auden's use of language is simple yet effective, and his message is one that remains relevant and important to this day.