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A Short Analysis of W. H. Auden’s ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’

‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’ by W. H. Auden (1907-73) was written in 1939, following the death of the Irish poet W. B. Yeats in January of that year. As well as being an elegy for the dead poet, ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’ is also a meditation on the role and place of poetry in the modern world. What is poetry for? Can it make anything happen? Should it make anything happen? You can read ‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’ here before proceeding to the analysis below.

‘In Memory of W. B. Yeats’ is in three parts, each of which has its own form and style.

PART I: In the first section, W. H. Auden discusses the death of W. B. Yeats ‘in the dead of winter’ (well, Yeats did die in January, after all), a time when the brooks were all frozen over and snow made it difficult to make out the public statues. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of W. H. Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939’

‘September 1, 1939’ is one of W. H. Auden’s most famous poems, although Auden (1907-73) later disowned the poem and banned it from appearing in collected editions of his work. As the poem’s title indicates, ‘September 1, 1939’ was written in early September 1939 – and although Auden didn’t actually write it in a New York bar, he was living in New York at this time (having moved there from England only months earlier). September 1, 1939 was the day on which Nazi Germany invaded Poland, causing the outbreak of the Second World War. Because the poem has resonated with so many readers (in both Auden’s own century and ours), and yet Auden himself came to detest it so strongly, ‘September 1, 1939’ requires some analysis. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of W. H. Auden’s ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’

What is the meaning behind Auden’s classic poem?

W. H. Auden wrote ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ in December 1938, while he was staying in Brussels with his friend Christopher Isherwood. The museum and art gallery mentioned in the poem’s title, ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’, is the Brussels art gallery, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, which Auden visited. ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ alludes to a number of paintings by old Dutch painters – the ‘Old Masters’ – which hang in the Belgian gallery. You can read ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ here before proceeding to our analysis below.

The easiest way to approach Auden’s poem is to break it up into two stanzas, the first of which establishes the theme of the poem (that old painters understood the nature of human suffering) and the second of which provides a specific example, which Auden describes and analyses in more detail. Read the rest of this entry