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W.H. Auden's Theories of Poetry

Poets draw upon life experiences and intellectual influences in developing their work, with some such influences being conscious and others unconscious but perceptible. W.H. Auden was a very conscious poet, a theorist as well as a poet, and one who understood the influences shaping his poetry and who made deliberate use of them to convey his themes and emotional impact. An examination of Auden's poetry and his theories of poetry shows that he was influenced by strong intellectual currents of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and that he consciously used the fact and power of ideology as he made use of the developing existentialism of SĀ°ren Kierkegaard and the social and political writings of Marx and other Communist thinkers to convey his particular notions of order.

In a famous lecture on poetry delivered by Auden at Oxford, he made an important distinction between the sacred and the profane that illuminates his poetry. He defines sacred beings and events as those that arouse involuntary awe in the observer, that seem overwhelmingly significant even if the reasons for this are too deep for the observer to analyze. Everything else is defined as profane. There is nothing religious in this distinction in spite of the terminology, and atheists have their sacred beings just as do Christians. Analyzing Auden's poetry means to discern what is sacred to him, what sorts of encounters are sacred and inspire awe in the poet.

Auden himself served as sacred to a generation of poets and critics who saw him "as a poetic messiah who would lead the way out of the Waste Land." At the same time, there was a backlash against Auden when politically oriented critics saw that Auden was not what they wanted him to be, leading to a bitter reaction that became even more bitter when he emigrated to the United States and started writing religious poetry. In the 1930s, though, Auden's work was infused with the theme of the power of ideol...

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W.H. Auden's Theories of Poetry. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 13:45, May 21, 2019, from