Although he married the daughter of the German novelist Thomas Mann in 1935, Auden did not love her. This was an arranged marriage which allowed her to have the British citizenship and escape from Nazi Germany. Auden met his true love, the poet Chester Kallman, in New York in 1939. Kallman became Auden’s companion for the rest of his life. Love is a recurrent theme in Auden’s poetry but so are many others such as world war two, politics, indifference, nature or time. Therefore, we could ask ourselves how important love is in Auden’s poetry.
As Auden has been in love for the major part of his life, a lot of his poems talk about it or at least mention it. Among them, the most famous one is Funeral Blues as it has been used in the movie “Four weddings and a funeral”. In this poem, Auden talks about the death of his lover. It is one of the rare poems in which Auden assumes his homosexuality when he says ‘He Is Dead’. It must be said that at this time, being gay was unacceptable and people could even end up in jail for that (this might be one of the reasons why in the poem Roman Wall Blues, Auden talks about ‘my girl’ though we know that his lover was a man). In Funeral Blues, the poet describes how the lover meant everything to him, by using the lexical field of space ‘North’, ‘South’, ‘East’, ‘West’, time ‘noon’, ‘midnight’, but also senses such as the view or hearing especially in the first stanza. The entire poem is about the void that the death of the lover has left and how much he counted in Auden’s life. This is pretty much the same in the poem Underneath the abject willow. Indeed, in the two poems the lover is dead. But in the second one, there is a positive note by the middle of the poem ‘Strike and you shall conquer’ which become more and more imposing by the end of it. It ends up on a sign of hope ‘walk then, come, no longer numb into your satisfaction’ which is contrasting with the beginning. This sudden change in the character’s way of thinking almost makes the reader forget that at first, this poem was written after the lover’s death and it could possibly be a way for the author to express his grief. This evolution of atmosphere is common with other poems such as The more loving one. It begins very sadly, the poet seems depressive ‘for all they care, I can go to hell’. The use of vulgarity is a sign of how fed up the poet is. He uses it again in stanza three ‘stars that do not give a damn’ to emphasise that he has had enough. Indeed, being in love is never easy because as Auden says ‘equal affection cannot be’. One person always loves more than the other does. Auden wants to be ‘the more loving one’, not as a sign of sacrifice but rather as a sign of understanding of the situation. By the end of the poem, he seems appeased by his choice, or at least a little, and able to put things into perspective ‘I should learn to look at an empty sky’. In this poem, Auden shows love as omnipresent in people’s lives as it keeps being a concern even at night time, under the stars. The evolution of atmosphere can be from a negative one to a positive one as we have just seen but it can also be inversely such as in O what is that sound and Refugee Blues. Indeed, in both poems, the atmosphere is quite pessimistic in the first stanzas but it becomes more and more obvious that the protagonists are wanted and that the end is going to be tragic. For instance, in O what is that sound, one of the two speakers still has hope in his voice at the beginning ‘only the scarlet soldiers, dear, the soldiers coming’ but as we continue reading, we can feel that he starts worrying ‘or perhaps a warning’, ‘now they are running’ and by the end, he is as scared as the first speaker is or maybe even more ‘I promised to love you, dear, But I must be leaving’. In Refugee Blues, the fact that the protagonists are wanted is really clear as soon as the first stanza ‘yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us’ but it still becomes more and more precise as long as we read the poem ‘looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me’. Those poems are both tragic as we understand that the characters are Jews wanted by the Nazi Germany. Love is here used as a way of moving deeply the reader as we can easily identify in the nickname ‘dear’ used all along the two poems. The use of the theme of love can also be seen as a ploy to soften the harshness of reality. This use can also be found in Lullaby. Even though the major part of the poem is quite sad, love is present since the beginning ‘lay your sleeping head, my love’ and until the end ‘watched by every human love’. The “love” mentioned in this poem is not only romantic love, but also spiritual love. Indeed, Auden’s speech is quite philosophical, he wonders why the world is as it is. Love is one of the few elements that bring back the reader to the real world. It is shown as a positive thing that makes reality easier to accept. Sometimes though, love is not welcome. This is the case in Miss Gee, in which the old single lady is disgusted by the sight of ‘the loving couples’. It can be seen as a sign of jealousy and loneliness.
We have seen that even if Auden sometimes represents love as something that makes people exclude others, he admits most of the time that it is a wonderful thing that really brighten people’s life and help them through difficult times. In all the cases, the fact that love is a recurrent theme in Auden’s poetry is a sign of how important it is in his own life.