The Enfant Terrible Master of Poetry: W.H. Auden
He has been described as "W. H. Auden, for long the enfant terrible of English poetry . . . emerges as its undisputed master" (Samson 227). W. H Auden is one of most influential poets of the Twentieth century, having written over 400 poems and countless numbers of essays, articles, and plays. Other poets have written poems and books celebrating his genius. W. H Auden’s works are genuinely his life and thoughts to include themes of unattainable love and loss, ethics and religion, citizenship and politics, and the anonymity of humans beings in the span of the universe.
Wystan Hugh Auden was born in 1907 in York, England, to a very religious family with a history of clergymen (Davenport 10). Auden credited his days in church with sparking his love for language. Auden explains, "It was there that I acquired a sensitivity to language which I could not have acquired in any other way" (Davenport 16). From the early age of eight Auden attended religious boarding schools, where he was first asked by a boarding school friend if he had ever written poetry. It was then that Auden immediately recognized his desire of being a grand poet. His unique talent was acknowledged a year later when Auden’s first poem was published in the school paper. He would later admit his passionate pursuit to be a great writer would overshadow his interest in religious faith.
Auden’s religious family in combination with his father’s profession as a psychologist, would prove to have a strong impact on Auden’s poetry and varying religious mindset. He was thirteen when he lost his interest in religion and it wasn’t until 1940 when he reconverted and joined the Episcopal church. Auden’s theology had a psychological influence which made him question many of teachings from his childhood in the religious boarding school, as displayed in his famous poem “Victor”.
The narrative poem “Victor” begins on a cold day in December when Victor’s father is preaching to him bible ethics such as “Don't dishonour the family name,” “Victor, my only son, Don't you ever ever tell lies,” and “Blessed are the pure in heart” (Lines 4,8,12). Auden uses imagery in comparing the cold months of December to the father’s cold heart. Victor’s father never shows him love or affection, just constant religious preaching. The poem also never introduces a mother or anyone warm and loving in Victor’s life. That is, until the beautiful Anna comes around on the first of April, a warm month. Auden is crafty in that he uses the specific date of the first of April or April Fool’s Day to foreshadow Victor’s foolishness. Victor’s friends tease him about his innocence and say things like “Have you ever had woman?” and “Victor's a decent fellow but/ He's too mousy to go far,” referring to Victor’s virginity (22, 27-28). His father’s religious teachings are so embedded in Victor’s moral code that he doesn’t care about being teased and just goes up to his room and reads the Bible’s story about Jezebel. Jezebel in the Bible was a wicked woman who killed the Lord’s prophets and was eaten by dogs in consequence of her actions.
Victor asks Anna to marry him three times before she finally agrees. They are married and Victor refers to her as “O my Helen of Troy” (60). This is an ironic allusion to the beautiful queen of Troy who cheated on the king and ran away with Paris resulting in the deaths of many, as will Anna’s adultery result in death. Later on in September, Victor eavesdrops on a conversation in the office where he discovers Anna has been cheating on him. This revelation took place in September, or the end of the warm summer, and the end of Victor’s warmth and happiness. Victor took all his father’s teachings literally and remembered “Blessed are the pure in heart” and the story of the wicked Jezebel who was killed for her sins (12). Victor then asks the skies what he should do and in his religious loyalty and resulting superstition, he...
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