Callan also claims that the true adversary is in the human mind, ‘the conscious brain’ which, more effectively than the Devil, ‘advance and retreats under control and poisons everything round it”. An understanding of the psychological dimensions of Auden’s early poetry presents the greatest of all the wars is that inside the human mind. In the second stanza of ‘Who Will Endure’ it says, “There is no change of place/But shifting of the head” (p. 54).
What is implied here is if man continues with war and emigrating to become ‘conquerors of empty bays’ (p.7) he will only make a wasteland of wherever he inhabits it. What is integral in order to become truly heroic is to change the perspective of mankind, so that the ordinary man is heroic in his understanding of the futility of war. Man with his new perspective need not fear the ‘rail head barriers or the ends of piers’ (p. 54) nor the ‘gamekeeper with his dog and gun’ (p. 54), the implements of fear. Overcoming this barrier man will be able to send his son ‘Further through foothills’ (p. 54). In ‘From Scars where Kestrels Hover’ Auden again pulls away from the conventions of the traditional hero.
In the second stanza it says: Heroes are buried who Did not believe in death And bravery is now Not in the dying breath But resisting the temptations To skyline operations. (p. 28) The heroism in the poem is what would be conceived in wartime as desertion. The bravery of the dying seems futile and the hero is he who endures and passes ‘Alive into the house’ (p. 28). He says in ‘The Prolific and the Devourer’ ‘He who undertakes anything, thinking he is doing it out of a sense of duty, is deceiving himself and will ruin everything he touches” (p. 403).
Again Auden is alluding to the false sense of duty conveyed to soldiers in wartime. He will ruin everything he touches because his actions and motives are based on false and fabricated premises structured on a framework of fear. Auden is again reinforcing that notions of classical heroism should not be utilised when the mind and body are not in harmony. The heroics in ‘The Aenied’, ‘The Illiad’ and Norse saga Auden utilises as the actual way for a man to conduct himself in war. When mankind harnesses his unconscious desire for freedom, breaking fears stranglehold over the will, man will become truly heroic.
Auden sees the fact that those who fight in war and die are ‘Fighters for no one’s sake’ (p. 28). The fighting will create just another wasteland and again the cyclical process will maintain its hold over mankind. In ‘To ask the Hard Question’ Auden is advocating that the ordinary man should assert himself, taking on the role as the hero in everyday pursuits, such as love. The ordinary man should become the man of action, but action that ultimately unites rather than fracturing and destroying. Auden is therefore utilizing mans skills and abilities for the purpose of uniting.
What is difficult for man is ‘remembering the method of remembering’ (p. 54). Man must be brave in confronting his own memory, remembering mankind’s inherent unity and so restoring ‘The steps and the shore’ (p. 55). In ‘Get there if you can’ Auden further demonstrates the need of a Blakian revolution of the consciousness most explicit. The intellectuals are systematically destroyed, society is in a state of decay and ‘Terrors drawing closer and closer’ (p. 49). Auden’s point is most explicit in this poem than in others, even if it is poetically crude.
But within this poem the facets of mans fear is expounded to the fullest and articulates the necessity for change in man’s perspective, to ‘stop behaving like a stone’ (p. 49). The time is for action, a conscious surge for change as opposed to ‘Lecturing on navigation while the ship is going down’ (p. 49). Fuller says that ‘Man is now at a stage of civilisation at which consciousness of his failure to create a just society is equally mixed with his hope that he may eventually do so’3.
This is what Auden refers to in ‘Get there if you can’ where ‘Hope and fear are neck and neck’ (p.49). This consciousness is also apparent in ‘I have a Handsome Profile’, the problem encountered by the characters is how to change. The change for Auden must be psychological, when this has taken place the external world of western society will follow. ‘I Have a Handsome Profile’ best demonstrates the awareness of the central character to his situation within society and the futility of his external actions to make his existence any more tolerable: It’s no use turning nasty It’s no use turning good You’re what you are and nothing you do Will get you out of the wood (p. 125)
What the narrator is opting for is apathy; the narrator is struck by the futility of his situation. The apathy is created through the fear of change as the narrator says, ‘remember that you are afraid’ (p. 125). The final stanza is mocking of the stereotypical hero, a hero who destroys the external world because of his stagnated mind. Auden insists that in this crumbling society the heroic figure is defined by the size of his gun. There are no heroes in Auden’s early poetry who are not literary abstracts, presented to illuminate man’s inability to align himself with these figures.
They are also used as positive aspiration blueprints for when man overcomes his fear and unites his mind and body. The crucial factor in Auden’s early poetry is the fear of the times. It is fear that essentially conspires to destroy man’s potentiality for change. The battle of fear is played out in the mind, where the battle must be won if the fertility of the mind is to be restored. The will must be free to reign beyond the realm of fear and so irrigate the Orchard, as the glacier in ‘Taller To-day’ has the capacity to.
In order to break the chain of man passing misery onto man he must also shift his perspective, remembering the unity of body and mind. The stirrings of consciousness are sown in the subjects of the poems, they have the potential as Audinian heroes, but must overcome their psychosis and become men of action if they are to escape Plato’s cave and onto the ‘Islands of Milk and Honey/ Where theres neither death nor old age/ And the poor have all the money’ (p. 133).
The poem ‘On Sunday Walks’ refers to ‘All glory and all story/ Solemn and not so good’ (p.34). This is an attack on the classical conceptions of the hero, a hero that is unworkable and is therefore ‘all story. In ‘Spain 1937 it says ‘Yesterday the abolition of fairies and giants’ this is again a reference to the ousting of the mythical hero who has nothing to fight in this world. The poem then shifts towards the removal of the Greek hero: Yesterday the belief in the absolute value of Greek; The fall of the curtain upon the death of a hero; Yesterday the prayer to the sunset, And the adoration of madmen. (p.211) Again the reassertion of there being no place for the heroics of one ubermenchcharacter.
For these heroes are ‘madmen’. Auden is referring to specificaaly General Franco, and less directly at Hiitler, Stalin and Mussolini. These dictators are adorned as heroes, but for Auden they are the ‘founders of these starving cities’ (p. 135) In ‘September 1, 1939’ it says: Out of the mirror they stare, Imperialism’s face And the international wrong. (p. 245) Again there is the reassertion of ‘The strength of Collective Man’.
Mankind see their furure as a reassertion of imperialism, which is the international wrong, a fight for nobody’s cause.
Bibliography Primary Texts W. H Auden, The English Auden (Faber & Faber, 1986) Secondary Texts John Fuller, A Reader’s Guide to W. H. Auden (Cox & Wyman, London, 1970) pp. 13-114 Edward Callan, Auden: A Carnival of Intellect (Oxford University Press, 1983) pp. 114-127. 1 Edward Callan, Auden: A Carnival of Intellect (Oxford University Press, 1983) pp. 114-127. 2 John Fuller, A Reader’s Guide to W. H. Auden (Cox & Wyman, London, 1970) p. 36.