Vitality of Critical Thoughts in the Poetry of W. H. Auden

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Poetry does not belong to the sphere of polemics and ideology rather it stimulates the intangible. Inherently subversive, poetry is an artistic abstraction so polyvalent in nature and paradoxical in language, that it invites individuals to derive meaning in the poem independently and to a larger extend the world around them. In this way, poetry births critical thought and its ability to alchemize raptures individuals in beauty. Auden stressed that poetry must not be political and that alternatively “poetry makes nothing happen”; he emphasized this not as a criticism, but in defence against ideological pressures during the 1930”s. This ambiguous ideology emanates from political orthodoxies (capitalist and communist) commanding poetry remain subservient to politics in supporting their contention in asserting a utilitarian moral right. Auden recognised the hermetic inutility of poetry revealed through his lack of specificity in form and language concerning the contextual framework of his time. Ultimately, in Auden’s poems “In memory of Yeats” and “Shield of Achilles”, Auden stresses the vitality of critical thought and the beguiling beauty that poetry creates in making no tangible thing happen.

Poetry’s polyvalent and versatile nature, calls individuals to derive meaning and purpose themselves, promoting critical thought and encouraging political discovery over political dogma. Auden’s claim was an essential reproof to the ideologically mandated culture that chokeholded society. Auden impels individuals to critically think independent of political dogma and oppression particularly due to Marxism, cultural hegemony and totalitarianism which ravaged 1930’s society. Auden lamented the way in which language was bastardised and abused by political hegemonies and thus, Auden’s lack of specificity in language offered no political commentary entreating individuals to discern their own ideals. Auden’s poem “Shield of Achilles” highlights the vitality of critical thought revealed through paradoxical and equivocal language. When Auden writes of humanity as an “unintelligible multitude” he suggests humanity’s uniformity and lack of individualism is ascribed to humanity’s inability to think critically in opposition to oppressive ethereal voices “without a face”.

This furthered when Auden writes that the “unintelligible multitude” “endures the belief” due to a lack of “discussion” and “cheering”, revealing that humanity neither questions nor celebrates the oppressive beliefs being forced upon them which leads them into patient suffering as a result. The lack of critical thought is further accentuated as a primary cause for discourse and suffering in the world when Auden writes “they died as men before their bodies died” illustrating that their lack of thought condemned them to death before they died. Similarly, Auden mirrors his plea for critical thinking in his poem “In memory of Yeats” when he wrote “Ireland has her madness and weather still.” This highlights political poetry’s inability to make anything happen, as Auden illustrates Yeats political poetry to have resulted in nothing. Ultimately, Auden’s use of ambiguous language explores the importance of critical thought amidst his contextual framework whilst opposing the proliferation of political manifesto’s.

Poetry’s liberty and elegance acts as a personal redress, functioning as a counterweight to the hostile and tyrannical forces in the world. Poetry is inherently subversive and its ability to alchemize raptures individuals is its foremost purpose. In this way, Auden’s enigmatic and unspecific language allows the reader to focus on the beauty of a poem. Thus, rather than warping itself into other worlds, poetry creates its own emotional world through its beauty. In Auden’s poem “In memory of Yeats”, Yeats poetry is celebrated separated from its politics. This is explored when Auden wrote “unconstraining voice, persuade us to rejoice” suggesting that when poetry is stripped from its political constraints, it contains the beauty generating pure exultation. Additionally, Auden wrote “sing of human unsuccess in a rapture of distress.” This oxymoronic excerpt implies a celebration of distress which extends to the celebration of what changes nothing, of pure beauty.

Although poetry does not produce tangible benefits, poetry produces intangible beauty which Auden celebrates although the world deems this as unsuccessful. Furthermore, Auden’s poem “Shield of Achilles” depicts a futuristic interpretation of society as a desolate wasteland. As revealed through the lines “ragged urchin aimless and alone” alongside “girls are rapped and two boys knife a third” they illustrate a palpable dystopian world within reach of human achievement in the near future. Auden exposes a world devoid of beauty to accentuate his belief that the beauty in poetry is being subservient to political ideals which leads humanity down a forbidding path. Ultimately, Auden stresses poetry’s ability to alchemize and rapture individuals in euphoria and beauty as a foremost principle in poetry’s ability to make no tangible thing happen.

Poetry’s form further emphasises the vitality of critical thought and denudes poetry of its politics in order to appreciate its beauty. W.H Auden’s manipulation of form challenges the social efficacy of art and in doing so, uncovers the beauty concealed. Auden’s poem “In memory of Yeats” assumes the elegiac tradition to criticize Yeats political commentary through poetry, yet celebrating the beauty beneath it. Traditionally, eulogies follows the structure; invocation, expression of angst and finally a resolution of acceptance. However, Auden modifies this rubric into incident, reflection then concluding with an epitaph and invocation calling readers to acknowledge the beauty of poetry. In this way, Auden stresses the value of poetry not defined by its accomplishments but how it forges a connection with the reader through beauty alone.

On the other hand, Auden utilizes the form of an Iliad to express the importance of critical thought in the poem “Shield of Achilles”. Auden’s use of form allows the world in which Hephaestus creates Achillies shield to directly mirror the political wasteland of modernity Auden establishes due to stagnant torpor plaguing society. Both worlds depict the lack of critical thought destroying their respective societies through war and destruction. Therefore, Auden uses form to affirm the appreciation of beauty in poetry and the necessity of critical thought.


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