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Auden's Interest in Psychological Problems

by Aaron Schwartz

W. H Auden’s writing is gorgeous, wonderful, moving and touching. Sometimes it is really exciting and even startling. And these words are not enough to describe all the greatness of Auden’s works. And the most interesting thing is that it is not only my opinion. Since during his life Auden was a writer of standing reputation, he was rewarded many times and was given a lot of honorable titles: in 1937 Auden received King George’s Medal for Poetry; in 1948 he won the Pulitzer Prize; in 1954 he was rewarded with the Bollingen Poetry Prize; another his award - the National Medal for Literature, which he received in 1967. Besides Auden held the chair in poetry at Oxford from 1956 to 1961, and during 1954-1973 he was a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. It is really impressing, isn’t it? Auden is considered to be one of the greatest poet of the twentieth century quite deservedly.

Auden’s career can be regarded as a combination of three tendencies. His youthful career in England was closely associated with his political and antiwar sentiments. He was the member of a group of young leftist writers. In his poetry of that period he expressed a socialist viewpoint. It was the time of the breakdown of English capitalist society, and Auden’s first book – “Poems”(1930) - was focused on it. While living in Germany, Auden became a witness of the rise of nazism, he served in the Spanish Civil War. All those events certainly reflected in his poetry.

There is the extract from Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939”:

… All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die...

This Auden’s writing gives us deep impression by its force, unusual images and words, by its strong feelings. In addition Auden showed a deep concern with psychological problems, he was fond of Freudian psychoanalysis. A lot of his poems were dedicated to that famous person.

For instance, here is the extract from one of them, In Memory of Sigmund Freud:

...When there are so many we shall have to mourn, when grief has been made so public, and exposed to the critique of a whole epoch the frailty of our conscience and anguish, of whom shall we speak? For every day they die among us, those who were doing us some good, who knew it was never enough but hoped to improve a little by living. Such was this doctor: still at eighty he wished to think of our life from whose unruliness so many plausible young futures with threats or flattery ask obedience, but his wish was denied him: he closed his eyes upon that last picture, common to us all, of problems like relatives gathered puzzled and jealous about our dying...

In this kind of Auden’s poems we can feel some difference from his political poems. We feel some ironic wit, more lyric moments and his psychological insight.

The third tendency of Auden’s poetry was connected with Christianity and the theology of modern Protestant theologians. On coming back to America Auden returned to the religion that he studied in youth at Christ Church College. His poetry acquired more romantic, lighter features. Auden was deeply religious person, and that reflected in his poems where he touched questions of existence, meaning of life, and which made him famous for his breadth of taste.

Appreciating the writing of Wystan Hugh Auden, we can see that the whole his poetry is closely connected with the time he lived. Political, social and cultural events influenced Auden’s works. His living in Germany, Iceland, China, England, America and acquaintance with various political systems, social processes, his witnessing wars, breakdowns of societies made Auden write political poems in order to express his viewpoints, sentiments, intellectual interests.

Auden’s interest in psychological problems, in particular in Freudian psychoanalysis can be explained by the wide popularity of psychology in 20 century, especially of psychoanalysis. And his returning to religion in his poetry is connected with his strong Christian faith, his culture. All these factors help us considerably to understand and enjoy W.H.Auden’s works – works of one of the most important writers of 20 century, who could be called the leading voice of his generation. Auden is a prominent writer, who managed to write poems in every imaginable verse form. Auden is worth being admired for his ability to incorporate in his work popular culture and current events. Auden was a man of the vast range of intellect and remarkable wit.

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