W. H. Auden: Poems

Three Examples of Auden’s Wartime Poetry: In Time of War: Sonnet XVI, Spain 1937, and 1st September 1939

“His effort to examine poetry with a coroner’s or detective’s clinical eye conceives of poetry as engaged with history and society”

Loris Mirella (on W.H. Auden), “Realigning Modernism”

Auden’s poems “Spain, 1937”, “Sonnet XVI”, and “1st September 1939” all testify to the English poet’s “clinical” detachment, a feature of his writing. Rather than separating him from the subject-matter, the sense of objectivity so characteristic of the poems serves to enhance the comprehensive expositions of a decade of war and emotional fatigue.

The simple structure of W.H. Auden’s poem “Sonnet XVI” – it takes the form of an Italian sonnet, although it resembles its Shakespearean counterpart in its rhyming scheme – contrasts strongly with the sprawling free verse of “Spain”, an account of the four-year-long civil war (1936 – 1939). Similarly, “1st September” differs from the others in form, resembling a combination of the two, with a rhyming scheme of sorts and tighter lines which, for the most part, contain no more than seven syllables. Most significantly, though, this last poem breaks from the author’s characteristic distance from his subject, a detachment Fountain (2007) refers to as “Auden’s panoptic view” (171). This essay will consider the...

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