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Lullaby - W.H Auden

By AshleeBJ Nov 03, 2010 1306 Words
Good morning ladies and gentleman, and thank you for the opportunity to discuss my favourite poems by W.H Auden, although ‘Lullaby’ was written in the 1940’s, Auden is widely considered among the greatest literary figures of the 20th century, this must mean something. It is understandable if at this point in time your eyes have just rolled to the back of your head, with your head dropping at the thought of listening to another British poem from the same era as every other presentation. But it might surprise you to consider the fact that each single piece of poetry that is read, possibly is the source of inspiration for the songs made today. Look at it this way, when someone downloads a new song, they sit and listen to the lyrics over and over again, their minds drift off trying to interpret the lyrics of that song and the underlying meaning to that song, until it drives them crazy and they just end up typing the song into Google to get the meaning. The same thought process should be attached to a poem, even though a poem is not sung by some 12 year old with bangs, a poem still holds that same meaning, the same underlying message to each person. I am hoping by the end of my presentation you will not only have a greater understanding of the poem and the poet, but also see that poems do hold meaning, and poems being the building blocks to the music of today. First, a little bit about the poet, Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, North Yorkshire, the son of George Augustus Auden, a distinguished physician, and Rosalie Auden. Solihull in the West Midlands, where Auden was brought up, remained important to him as a poet. Auden was educated at St. Edmund's Hindhood and then at Gresham's School, Holt, Norfolk. In 1925 he entered Christ Church, Oxford. Auden's studies and writing progressed without much success: he took a disappointing third-class degree in English. And his first collection of poems was rejected by T. S. Eliot at Faber & Faber. Auden first gained attention in 1930 when his short verse play called ''Paid on Both Sides'' was published in T. S. Eliot's periodical The Criterion. In the same year appeared Auden's poems, his first commercially published book, in which he carefully avoided romantic self-expression - the poems were short, untitled, and slightly cryptic. Auden soon gained fame as a leftist intellectual. He showed interest in Marx and Freud and he wrote passionately on social problems, among others in LOOK, STRANGER! (1936). However, by 1962 he argued that art and politics were best kept apart, stating in his essay 'The Poet and the City' that "All political theories which, like Plato, are based on analogies drawn from artistic fabrication are bound, if put into practice, to turn into tyrannies." In the late 1930s Auden's poems were perhaps less radical politically. The last works from this decade astonished readers with their light comic tone and domesticity. The early 19th century saw the blossoming of the great Romantic Movement, Romanticism has very little to do with the things popularly thought of as ‘romantic’ although love may occasionally be the subject of Romantic art. Rather it is an international artistic and philosophical movement that redefined the fundamental ways in which people in Western cultures thought about themselves and about their world. Later poets of the 20th century also acknowledged the influence of this creative period in poetry. These two broad classifications within the movements of these centuries are the styles that Auden had incorporated into his work. Is Lullaby is a primary example of the Romanticism era? There’s only one way to find out, let’s take a look at his Lullaby.

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstasy.

Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.
I see those lost faces, I assure you, when I first stumbled upon this poem I had a blonde moment to, but let’s delve deeper, to the core meaning to understand where his head was at.

Lullaby is an unconventional love poem which with intense mystery and power, Auden evokes the preciousness of a single night of passion. The title ‘Lullaby’ might be considered a symbol of serenity that characterizes this poem. The poem is not about romantic love but about love as interpreter of the world, love is an individual need, love as a redeeming power in the life of society and the individual.

Lullaby, is a structured by four ten-line stanzas, each stanza reflecting upon the value and necessity of both passionate love and beauty and their brevity.

In the first stanza Auden emphasises the condition of the human individual in the world. The ‘thoughtful children’ might symbolise the purity which is in contrast with ‘guilty’. The idea of death is suggested by ‘grave’ and ‘mortal’ is contrast with ‘living creature’. We meet a faithless individual, aware of his mortal condition which ignores with the help of passion and of love.

Love breaks the bounds between ‘soul’ and ‘body’. This fact gives birth to a serious of powerful emotions: on the one hand the idea of ‘universal sympathy’, ‘universal love and hope’ and on the other ‘the hermit’s sensual ecstasy among the glaciers and the rocks’.

Certainty and fidelity are seen like passing strokes of a bell but this night of love has a great importance for the poet so, everything will remain intact ‘but not from this night, not a whisper, not a thought, not a kiss, nor look be lost’.

The idea of every human love is met in the last stanza, too. Love turns out to be a powerful physical and spiritual force which binds the body to the soul and the external world to the inner one.

In order to illustrate convincingly his ideas, Auden uses a specific poetic language.

Now retracing my steps to when I first introduced poetry as a whole, I compared poetry to a song and its lyrics, well just like a song has a beat and a pattern, surprisingly, so does a poem. In the case of ‘Lullaby’, it follows the rhythmic pattern of trochaic tetrameter – this refers to a line of four trochaic feet. The word ‘tetrameter’ simply means that the poem has four trochees. A trochee is a long syllable, or stressed syllable, followed by a short or unstressed one.

Who would have thought hey, boring old poetry VS music?

I hope this presentation has given you a deeper understanding of the poem, and has possibly given you a greater appreciation of poems and poets of all sorts.

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