Auden as a modern poet


Modernism is both a philosophical and artistic movement that arose from broad transformations in Western society during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) is a poet of modern times. Thematically and structurally, Auden’s poems show the striking feathers of modernism. The elements that are needed to consider him a modern poet are in large amounts in his poems. The characteristics that prove Auden as a modern poet are illustrated in the following passages.

More Notes: W. H. Auden

Lack of Sympathy   

Auden makes it clear that modern people have lost their love and sympathy toward others. Even when a man dies, they do not care about it but continue their daily lifestyle. So, Richard Hoggart rightly says,  

Auden combines an intense interest in the human heart with a desire to reform society and he thinks over psychological ills greater than our political 

Scientific representation of Nature  

In terms of nature, Auden is out and out more realistic than Robert Frost. He never represents nature as a romantic element like Wordsworth. To him, Nature is never affected by the death of the poet or somebody. It remains the same but people’s mind is a matter of change.  

More Notes: Suggestions

 Meter and Versification:  

The most remarkable quality of modern poetry is Meter and Versification. Modern poets use different kinds of meter and versification. Auden is also modern in this respect. He has used free verse, and blank verse. From the perspective of meter, Auden uses the ballad meter.  

Lack of Morality   

Auden reveals in his poems modern people’s lack of morality. In the poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” Auden represents the philosophical truth about human sufferings. Actually, people in this universe generally remain indifferent to the pain and suffering of another person. While a man suffers, others are engaged. In “Musee Des Beaux Arts”, the poet exposes the lack of morality through the mythical incident of Icarus. Here he shows that in human suffering, “Human is indifferent”. The painting painted by Brueghel shows that while some people of the world suffer, others are busy doing their work. This human condition leads our poet to the world of suffering. Auden says,  

Something amazing, a boy fallen out of the sky 

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. 

Icarus had the intention to fly to the sun. In order to put his ambition into practice, he tries to reach the sun with the help of artificial wings made of feather and wax. But after flying a little distance, his wings melted and he fell down headlong into the sea. But nobody noticed it.   

Lack of emotion   

Auden never gives priority to personal emotion in his poems. His most remarkable poem poems like Lullaby, The Shield of Achilles, and In Memory of W.B. Yeats expose his emotional emptiness. He always rejected emotion in his poetry and enriched poetry with actual knowledge.  

Realistic attitude toward love

Auden rejects the traditional treatment of love in his poetry. Rather he includes intellectual in his love poetry. Poets like Shakespeare, John Keats, W B Yeats, John Donne, and Robert Browning glorify love by revealing excessive passion. But in this sense, Auden is totally different. His attitude towards love is realistic as we find in his iconic love poem, “Lay your sleeping head my love”. Here the lover is aware of his beloved and his own faithlessness. But they are human beings. They can make mistakes. In spite of his beloved faults, the lover finds his beloved lovable.  

Symbols and Imagery:

Auden uses in his poetry a wide range of Imagery, symbolism, and other figures of speech. He adopted the style of symbolism in order to represent his experience in the modern world. In Petition, he represents the old, decaying, and rotten Western civilization as the house of the dead. After praying to God, he writes:  

Harrow the house of the dead; look shining at 

New style of architecture, a change of heart. 

Auden’s imagery is, also modern. In the poem entitled In Memory of W.B.Yeats, he represents the atmosphere of the then Europe as follows:   

In the nightmare of the dark 

All the dogs of Europe bark, 

And the living nations wait, 

Each sequence in his hate. 


Thus, the poetry of W. H. Auden deals with modern themes. His anti-romantic attitude, impersonality and Versification establish him as a modern poet.  

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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