Auden’s use of mythology in his poetry.


Myth is a symbolic narrative, usually of unknown origin and at least partly traditional, that ostensibly relates actual events and that is especially associated with religious belief. Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) uses mythology in his poetry widely. He uses myth to portray the modern world.   

Myth in Audens Lullaby  

Auden portrays mythological love in his iconic poem “Lullaby”. Actually, in the poem “Lullaby” the story of Cinderella is portrayed. It is a mythological illustration of love. The charm of magic in the case of Cinderella was to last only till midnight. The poet says in the following lines,  

Beauty, midnight, vision dies 

Let the winds of dawn that blow” 

More Notes: W. H. Auden

The myth of the poem The Shield of Achilles  

The poem “The Shield of Achilles”, is a mythological creation of Auden. In the poem “The Shield of Achilles”, Auden uses Greek myths for the purpose of his poetry. The purpose is to delineate the modern world. Here the classical and the modern world is portrayed. The goddess mother of Achilles, Hephaestus, and Achilles represents the classical world. The new shield of Achilles made by the God Hephaestus symbolizes a modern world. It’s the cause of war, violence, and crime.   

Thetis of Greek Mythology is so much worried about the premature death of his son Achilles in the Trojan war. But Auden represents her in such a way that she is worried about mankind.  

In Iliad, “The Shield of Achilles” represents the beauty of the Greek World. But in Auden’s poetry, “The Shield of Achilles” is illustrated as the modern shield of the modern world. Auden says,  

But there on the shining metal 

His hands had put instead 

An artificial wilderness 

And a sky like lead 

The modern shield represents the modern wasteland.  In the poem “The Shield of Achilles” we get the picture of the land which is totally barren and unproductive. This modern wasteland is full of crowds. There is no place to sit and rest. There is nothing to eat.  

More Notes: Suggestions

Myth in the poem Memory Of W.B. Yeats  

Auden in his poem “In memory of W.B Yeats”, mourns for the great poet’s death. W.B. Yeats was his idol in the poetic universe. Here in this poem after the death of Yeats, nature is represented in a mythical way. Death is the law of nature. But Auden does not glorify Yeats after his death. Rather Auden looks upon the death of Yeats as an ordinary thing. Yeats dies physically, but his poetry lives after him. His death did not affect the order of the universe. Auden relates,   

The words of a dead man 

Are modified in the gut of the living 

In this poem, Auden reveals the negative aspects of humans. He tells about the terrible effect of World War II. The European leaders are treating each other. They become bloodthirsty. They become isolated from one another.  

Myth in Musee Des Beaux Arts  

Auden uses myth in his celebrated poem “Musee Des Beaux Arts”. Here Auden portrays the mythical tragedy, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Again, the mythological story of Icarus is also found who falls from the sky into the sea. The myth of Jesus and Icarus is very significant. Auden reveals that Icarus was falling down melting the wax but no one noticed. In the modern age, no one cares for others. Everyone is busy with their own. People are so much selfish in the modern world.  


To sum up it is quite clear that, there is a specific meaning to Auden’s use of myth. For the reformation of the barren nation, he actually illustrated mythological incidents, characters, and weapons

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

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

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