W W.H. Auden

The Diaspora By W.H. Auden

‘The Diaspora’ is one of Auden’s celebrated sonnets. Originally it was part of a longer poem entitled New Year Letter published in 1941. In the poem, this sonnet occurs in the situation in which Auden treats the persecution of Christ by the Jews. Later it was extracted from New Year Letter, and published in his Collected Shorter Poems (1930-1944), in 1950. Its publication caused a lot of discussion in Britain and America. Actually, it was occasioned by Hitler’s persecution of the Jews in Germany and in the occupied countries during the years 1938-1940.

The Diaspora By W.H. Auden

 

Summary

The poem is titled The Diaspora, which means dispersion, particularly, of the Jews after the Babylonian captivity. It also refers to the dispersion of the Jews in the Age of Christ’s Twelve Apostles. In relation to the present poem, the title also means the dispersion of the Jews and their emigration to other countries, from Germany and the countries occupied by her during World War II (1939-45).

In a gloomy mood, Auden writes that the Jews have never reconciled themselves to the survival of Christianity after Christ’s crucifixion. They persecuted him like anything. They pursued him to the cross. Thereafter they vilified his system of religion and ridiculed his Heaven as a land of mirages. Their sin has ultimately recoiled upon themselves. The Nazi Germans are persecuting the Jews as if to punish them for the sin committed by their ancient ancestors about two thousand years ago.

The Jews of the early Christian centuries could never understand how Jesus Christ and his system of religion could survive his persecution and crucifixion. Their ancestors had beggared him, pursued him to the Cross, and had him crucified. Their intolerance proved that they loved their God called Jehovah, their Jewish religion, and their land Israel more than their lives.

Their God had commanded them to love and worship only it, with all their heart and in all places. Hence they attempted to drive Christ and his faith not only out of the bounds of the earth but also out of the bounds of their heaven. Yet Christ completed his mission of the prophet for which he was born. But his persecutors were filled with envy at his religion of the Cross, too. They vilified his system of religion to the last degree. They represented his Heaven as a land of mirages.

And now in the present age, their sin of persecuting Christ has again recoiled upon the heads of their children. The Nazi Germans are persecuting the human body of the Jews, and causing the diaspora as if to punish them for the sin of Christ’s persecution committed by their ancient ancestors about two thousand years ago.

In the present sonnet, Auden has employed ‘he,’ ‘his,’ and ‘him’ for Jesus Christ, and ‘they,’ ‘them,’ and their’ for the Jews. In the last line, ‘they’ has been used to refer to the Nazi German. Auden has adopted this device to avoid falling into any religious controversy.

 

The Diaspora Analysis

How he survived them they could never understand:

(…)

Meant when it bade them set no limits to their love?

The above six lines occur in the poem entitled ‘The Diaspora.’ Through these lines, the poet says that The Hebrews (i.e. the  Jews of early centuries) could never understand how Jesus  Christ and the system of his religious principles (now called Christianity) could survive his merciless persecution and his crucifixion. For they had done everything they could to destroy him lock, stock, and barrel.) They had reduced him to beggary (got him arrested and crucified). Their intolerance proved that they loved their Jewish religion and their land Israel more than their lives. So they could not allow Jesus Christ to emanate his new religion in their land. Their infinite God Jehovah had commanded them to love and worship only It (and no other god), by all their heart and in the entire place. Hence they attempted to drive Christ and his religion not only out of the defined lands on earth but also out of the worlds of infinite Heaven.

And he fulfilled the role for which he was designed:

Through this line, the poet says, despite all, Jesus Christ performed or completed the mission he was born to carry out. Here the poet is talking about why Jesus Christ had taken birth on this earth, and what his mission is after being born on this earth.

On heat with fear, he drew their terrors to him,

(…)

Except that exile which he called his Race.

Here the poet states that Jesus Christ was a Prophet of the poorest of mankind. Yet hearing his teachings the rich and leading Jews were filled with fear. And the fire of ill-will towards him began to burn in their hearts. Soon they began to persecute him for his religious views. Yet he voluntarily submitted himself to their cruel measures of persecution and continued emanating his religious principles of love, charity, etc. But his persecutors pursued him to the place beyond which they could not pursue him any longer.  The place was the frame of the cross which exiled him from the mortal world through crucifixion. The Cross was also the symbol of the body of Christians whom he had described as the true human beings of his race of mankind. The poet implies that the Jews crucified Jesus Christ on the Cross, believing that it would be the end of him and his system of religion. But to their dismay, the Cross became a symbol of Christ’s religion which attracted countless people and inspired them to become Christians.

But, envying him even that, they plunged right through him

(…)

And all they had to strike now was the human face.

Through the above extract, the poet describes the persecutors’ behavior of the Jews towards Christianity after Christ’s crucifixion. The poet also points to the persecution of the Jews consequent upon their sin of persecuting Jesus Christ. He says that after Christ’s crucifixion, his system of religion began to flourish. But the Jews of those ancient times were filled with envy at Christ’s religion of the Cross, too. Their wise men plunged straight into the substance of his teachings and represented them as insubstantial. They also argued that Christianity led to a Heaven of eternal and infinite mirages and illusions.

Their efforts to destroy Christianity proved futile and this religion spread far and wide. And now in the present age, the sin of persecuting Jesus Christ has again recoiled upon the heads of the present-day Jews. The Nazi Germans started persecuting the human body of Judaism (i.e. the doctrines and the rites of the Jews) as if to punish the Jews for the sin committed by their ancient ancestors about two thousand years ago. Auden implies that the penalty of the sin of Christ’s persecution is persecution and diaspora of the Jews.

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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.
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