Poetry Analysis of W. H. Auden's "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"
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Poetry Analysis of W. H. Auden's "In Memory of W. B. Yeats" Being one of the greatest poet in the modern world and a major figure devoting to the Celtic Twilight, which is a trial and a "popular desire for a revival of Irish traditional culture" (Kelen 32), William Butler Yeats died in January, 1939. Meanwhile, it was only eight months before the outbreak of World War II and the whole Europe was on the edge of the war - there were revolutions within the Continent and people got scared and considered themselves in a war. In Wystan Hugh Auden's "In Memory of W. B. Yeats", Auden makes use of an elegy to state the fact of the death of a great poet and moreover, takes the readers to a wider political context focusing on the extent of effectiveness of poetry in time of tumult. In my view, Auden delicately divides the focus of the poem into two levels, the superficial level (the fact of Yeats' death) and the in-depth level (the effectiveness of the poetry in relation to the political context). The two levels are evenly distributed to the three sections of the poem so that even though different sections carry different meanings, they form cohesion. In the first section, Auden states the fact of Yeats' death on an intense cold day by making use of imagery such as the "frozen brooks" (line 2), the "deserted airports" (line 2)
Poetry, in my view, has its own implication that exceeds its literal level of meanings. Louis Macneice argues in his book, The Poetry of W. B. Yeats, that "art [is] [certainly] [not] for art's sake" (18) as he believes that "a poet like W. H. Auden should reassert that a poem must be about something" (Macneice 18). He further comments that a poem is "more of a poem if it fulfils its business of corresponding to life" (Macneice 193). Personally, I agree with the statement as it is my belief that poetry cannot stand on its own as a form of literature - it always reflect the thought, intention, feelings, opinion and stand of the poets. For example, in Yeats' poem "A Coat", the poem cannot be just about "a coat" but also reflect the poet's disappointment about the "critic['s] misinterpretation of the poet's work" (Kelen 34). As poem is "more than a poem" if it has something related to the life of human beings, poetry should be capable of making something happen. Referring back to the poem, Auden, in the last two stanzas of the poem, stresses the value of poetry at critical time by showing the readers its power to transform despair into hope - through the nourishing of the "farming of a verse" (line 59), "a vineyard [can] [be] [made] [out] of the curse" (line 60).
By "teach[ing] [him] how to praise" (line 66), Auden intends to give the message that it is through the spreading and singing of poetry can those people (who consider themselves 'free') know the way to respect their life, live a life to the full and celebrate the coming and completion of each day even though they are living in hardship. In fact, the last stanza serves as the same function like the description of transformation from "curse" into "vineyard", and from "distress" to "rapture" in the previous stanza. All the components from the two stanzas work well with each other to reinforce and put emphasis on Auden's point of the role of poetry as to inspire people at time of distress. In conclusion, Macneice comments that "Yeats did not write primarily in order to influence men's actions but he knew that art can alter a man's outlook and so indirectly affect his actions" (192). I agree with this statement as we can see from this poem Auden's stand on the value of Yeats' poetry - although the situation in Ireland remained constant despite Yeats' devotion to Irish poetry, Auden believes that poetry, including that of Yeats', is capable of transforming the mental and spiritual outlook of human beings so that when they are hopeful and passionate for their life and future, they act more positively and contribute to a world with peace and hope. This is the time when poetry really makes a difference to the world.
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