Auden on World War II

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Auden on World War II

Postby jonquil » Tue Jul 28, 2015 8:47 pm

With Auden's magnum opus "Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue," we get a view of World War II from Auden as both a contemporary and as a purveyor of history in a very telling, original way of looking at traditions and illuminating viewpoints that have been wonderfully evoked and then brutally shattered.

Both baroque and eclogue are meant in the most ironic sense. Also note the Old English verse form. Here are a couple of excerpts that might recall you to think of our world today and some of its leaders in light of those from the historical past:

EMBLE (American enlisted in Navy):
And sad sound. The insensible ocean,
Miles without mind, moaned all around our
Limited laughter, and below our songs
Were deaf deeps, denes of unaffection,
Their chill unchanging, chines where only
The whale is warm, their wildness haunted
By metal fauna moved by reason
To hunt not in hunger but for hate's sake
Stalking our steamers. Strained with gazing
Our eyes ached, and our ears as we slept
Kept their care for the crash that would turn
Our fears into fact. In the fourth watch
A torpedo struck on the port bow:
The blast killed many; the burning oil
Suffocated some; some in lifebelts
Floated upright till they froze to death;
The younger swam but the yielding waves
Denied help; they were not supported,
They swallowed and sank, ceased thereafter
To appear in public; exposed to snap
Verdicts of sharks, to vague inquiries
Of amoeboid monsters, mobbed by slight
Unfriendly fry, refused persistence.
They are nothing now but names assigned to
Anguish in others, areas of grief.
Many have perished; more will.

ROSETTA(Englishwoman working in America):
Four who are famous confer in a schloss
At night on nations. They are not equal:
Three stand thoughtful on a thick carpet
Awaiting the Fourth who wills they shall
Till, suddenly entering through a side-door,
Quick, quiet, unquestionable as death,
Grief or guilt, he greets them and sits down,
Lord of this life. He looks natural,
He smiles well, he smells of the future,
Odorless ages, an ordered world
Of planned pleasures and passport-control,
Sentry-go, sedatives, soft drinks and
Managed money, a moral planet
Tamed by terror: his telegram sets
Grey masses moving as the mud dries.
Many have perished; more will.
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