W W.H. Auden

Consider This And In Our Time by W.H. Auden

The poem, entitled ‘Consider This And In Our Time’ was composed by Auden in March 1930. It first appeared in his poetic volume Poems (1930). Later it appeared in his famous poetic volume Collected Shorter Poems (1950).

Consider This And In Our Time by W.H. Auden

 

Consider This And In Our Time Analysis

Stanza One

As the hawk sees it or the helmeted airman:
The clouds rift suddenly – look there
At cigarette-end smouldering on a border
(…)
Supplied with feelings by an efficient band
Relayed elsewhere to farmers and their dogs
Sitting in kitchens in the stormy fens.

Written in blank verse, ‘Consider This And In Our Time’ by W.H. Auden, which can be read in full here, has three long stanzas, and similar to Petition, which also bears another title, named Sir, No Man’s Enemy, is addressed to the strong feeling of sexual love personified as love-god called Eros in Freudian psychology. Like Freud, Auden believes that Eros is the embodiment of Life-force in man. But he also believes that modern society consists of individuals in whom sexual-love, born life-force called the ‘Id’ lies repressed.

And modern man represents his sexual-love-born erotic impulses and desires habitually under the pressure of social morals and laws. For modern cultural morals and social laws lie embedded in the Super-ego of the individual.  When a person is stirred by an erotic impulse, or rather, by a sexual desire, his Super-ego represses it by means of shame complex, or of fear complex, or of both. Because of such repression of sexual love for ages and ages in his ancestors, the modern man is spiritually dead and emotionally frozen. For sexual-love-born ‘Id’ is the cause of spiritual vivacity and sexual heat of the generative emotion.

In the very first stanza of the poem, the poet represents the central idea that modern society consists of individuals, who are spiritually dead and sexually frozen because of the repression of the sexual-love born ‘Id’. He strengthens his view by employing his ice-age symbols and his Mortmere Myth. The ice-age symbols are ‘the massif’ and ‘the stomyfens’. The imaginary Mortmere myth separates the emotionally frozen from that of ‘smouldering’ ‘cigarette-end’ (i.e. of those in which the ‘Id’ is still smouldering’. The latter society consists of those who believe in the new culture of Freudian sexualism.

As has been mentioned, the present poem, too, is addressed to sexual love personified as the love-god, Eros. The poet imagines that love-god, Eros, is standing in the sky.  There is a floor of clouds under the love-gods feet. The sheet of clouds is spread over an Alpine scene in which there stands the Sport Hotel in the mountain pasture of the Alps (Germany). Addressing the love-god, Eros, the poet prays it to consider the general conditions of this society of neurotics, in relation to the needs of the modern age. It may take a general view of them as does a hawk or a helmeted airman.

Now that the clouds over the Hotel have suddenly split, it may cast, through the rift, a glance at the smouldering cigarette-end on a border, and on the other side, at the garden party, the first of the year. Through the plate-glass windows of the Sport Hotel, it may also appreciate the view of the solid chain of the Alps, beyond the party-spot. It may now look on the neurotics dressed in fur-coats death-wise, they are dangerous. Being emotionally frozen, they look tranquil. They are being supplied with feelings by the exciting strains of radio music. It is being broadcast from a radio station for farmers and their dogs sitting in their farmhouses in the stormy marshland farms.

 

Stanza Two

Long ago, supreme Antagonist,

(…)

– Lie since in barrows out of harm.

In this extract, the poet says that the process of freezing the Libido (i.e. sexual impulse) was started by the Antagonist of the ‘Id’. It (i.e. the Super-ego) is more powerful than Satan described in Milton as the great northern whale. It is as ancient as the man mentioned in the Bible as living in Cornwall, Mendip, or the Pennine Moore. In other words, the Super-ego started repressing the sexual-love born ‘Id’ when the Christian civilization and culture began.

Being sorry for man’s being mortal and miscalculating that free love might cause men to kill one another, the Super-ego started repressing, O Eros, your high-born comments on the urges of the mining-captains (i.e. genital organs). Thus the erotic impulses and desires of man in the Christian civilization have found no gratification since the Biblical period. The Super-ego has constantly repressed them and has turned them into elements of death-wise. Since then they lie repressed in safe places in the human bodies which bear them as if they were a load.

You talk to your admirers every day

(…)

Your solitary agents in the country parishes;

In this extract of the poem, the poet says that there are still some admirers of yours. You infuse them with erotic impulses and desires in the presence of, and among, the diseased every day. The minds of some of the diseased are silted harbours for ships of erotic impulses. Some others’ minds are abandoned workshops for erotic thoughts. The rest are stifled fruit-trees for erotic fruits.

And the mind of the modern society is the comb which is silent because here dogs of the Super-ego have torn erotic hares or a love-bird was often shot dead. So, O love-god, command the neurotics that they must attack the Super-ego right away; visit the hearts of those who are wasting time in idle-talks in the bar beside the sun-lit pool, and inspire your select followers to come out into the open; inspire with intense sexual love those handsome but diseased young boys, and also those women, who are lovers, and are your representatives in the country districts, remote from the modern urban society of the sick.

And mobilise the powerful forces latent

(…)

Seized with immeasurable neurotic dread.

In this section of the second stanza, the poet says: O Life-force, then call into acute service all the powerful sexual urges latent in genitals, which make the farmer brutal to the neurotic unconscious mind, and also in the eyes of the fur-clad gentry. Then readily start your expansionist attack. The attack will be soft but spreading and shall take the form of the Id. In its magnified capacity, the expanding force of the ‘Id’ shall be horrifying to the disgustful Super-ego which, seized with boundless neurotic dread, will raise a very great alarm, shaking, the people, the rich and the poor, as agitated paper hangings are shaken by a sudden blast of wind.

 

Stanza Three

Financier, leaving your little room
Where the money is made but not spent,
(…)
To disintegrate on an instant in the explosion of mania
Or lapse for ever into a classic fatigue.

In this 22 lines extract, the poet urges the Id not to give its fight against the Super-ego. He then exhorts it either to proceed to destroy the Super-ego or to lapse into a haunted state of exhaustion, forever. Addressing the ‘Id’ the poet adds that it manages the resources of the human body as if it were the financier of the bodily state. If it leaves the neurotics body, its resources will waste away and the growth of the human body of capturing the human soul is up between it and the conservative moralists of colleges and cathedrals. They preach the people to repress the ‘Id’ in order to get happiness in heaven. But the time for it to attack the Super-ego has come at last. So, it should either proceed to destroy the Super-ego now or lapse into haunted exhaustion forever.

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About
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
  • Whatever readers say to justify their point, the fact remains that the poem should have been treated objectively with Auden’s background. Are you discussing Freud or analyzing Auden’s poem. Don’t force your personal opinion so authoritatively.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I’m confused. Who is forcing opinions and what opinions are you referencing?

  • What comedy is this?! One is free to interpret poems from a purely subjective perspective, but it is criminal to masquerade such an analysis as an authoritative reading of the poem, that too on a public platform. When you apply Freudian theory on this massive a scale and throw around words like Id and Superego in relation to a harmless Auden poem, at least show the courtesy to state that this is a personal analysis.

    Please don’t disorient students and poetry enthusiasts.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I appreciate your articulate feedback, even though it is quite damning, it’s always great to hear commentary from somebody clearly passionate about poetry. Here’s the thing about poetry though, like a great painting you could show it to 100 different people and they might all tell you it is about something different. While the views of our author might not sync with what you believe the poem to be about, literature is routed mostly in people’s opinions, of course it is also influenced by the context and as I’m sure you know Auden was a poet who often created poems that were multi-faceted purporting to be about one thing while delicately dealing with another. I think if we were both being honest there really is no such thing as a “harmless” Auden.

    • What he has interpreted is correct. Im a student of English literature and i have been taught this poem in the same manner. He is not at all wrong.

      • Lee-James Bovey says:

        Thank you for your comment. As I said to the original poster, great poetry can be interpreted many way.

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