W W.H. Auden

The More Loving One by W.H. Auden

The poem ‘The More Loving One’ was written by Wystan Hugh Auden, better known as W.H. Auden, in 1957. This is a poem about unrequited love.  Auden, a British author, playwright, and poet, is most known today for his poems.  Much of his early poetry reflected the political conflicts he encountered in the various areas of the world where he had traveled. Later, his poetry would reflect more religious and spiritual elements.  Auden eventually moved to the United States and became a citizen; in 1948, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his long poem, The Age of Anxiety. Auden returned to Europe as his health started to deteriorate, and on September 29, 1973, he died at his home in Vienna, Austria, at the age of sixty-six.

The More Loving One by W.H. Auden


Summary of The More Loving One

‘The More Loving One’ is a poem in which an extended metaphor is used to depict the feelings of the speaker, who is the victim of unrequited love. Auden uses the extended metaphor of stars to represent the lovers who do not feel the same for their pursuers.  The speaker recognizes that the stars “do not give a damn,” but that does not stop him from admiring them.  Additionally, he also knows that if the stars were to disappear, he would be able to get over his feelings for them after some time.


Detailed Analysis

This poem, which can be read in full here, is broken into four stanzas that each contain four lines, for a total of sixteen lines.  The rhyme scheme is set and distinct, with each stanza following the pattern aabb.

In the first stanza, Auden establishes his extended metaphor of stars as lovers in the first two lines.  He writes, “Looking up at the stars, I know quite well/That, for all they care, I can go to hell…” The speaker is informing his reader from the very beginning that he knows just by looking at his lover that the emotions he feels for him or her are not returned.  Additionally, the unrequited lover is so indifferent that he or she does not care about the fate of the speaker.  Auden finishes the stanza in lines three and four: “But on earth indifference is the least/We have to dread from man or beast.”  Here, Auden is perhaps insinuating that he would rather his lover feel indifference toward him as opposed to the contrary, which could be hatred or love that goes unrequited by him.

Auden continues this theme into the second stanza, which opens with a question to the reader.  He writes, “How should we like it were stars to burn/With a passion for us we could not return?” He seems to be asking his reader which would be better: To be loved and not loved in return, or to be the one who is on the other end, who does not reciprocate the love of one’s suitor? The speaker answers the question for his reader in lines seven and eight: “If equal affection cannot be,/Let the more loving one be me.” According to the speaker and Auden, it is better to be the one who loves as opposed to the one who does not.

In the third stanza, the tone shifts slightly, and the speaker recognizes that love is fleeting and impermanent, where all four lines of the stanza complete one thought:

Here, the speaker acknowledges that what he currently feels for his lover is not something that will always be.  He does not feel so strongly that he will be unable to live without them, and he even admits that when he sees them, he does not feel as though he has missed them while they have been away.

Auden continues with this idea in the fourth and final stanza. The speaker admits that if his lover, again represented as stars, were to go away or die, he would learn to not only get over that person, but also to feel their absence as “sublime.”  He recognizes, however, that this would not happen overnight.  Instead, it would take some time to get over the receiver of his love.


Historical Significance

As stated earlier, this poem was written in 1957, after Auden’s more political poetry had been written. Auden would write other poems with motifs of unrequited love, but this is perhaps his most famous.  Many critics believe Auden knew unrequited love all too well.  The poet married briefly while still in Europe.  His wife, Erika Mann, the daughter of the German writer Thomas Mann, married Auden in order to flee Nazi Germany.  Once she was safely in England, the couple divorced.  After moving to the United States, Auden met and fell in love with the love of his life, fellow poet, Chester Kallman. Even though homosexual relationships were quite taboo at the time, the couple lived rather openly, and upon his death, Auden bequeathed his entire estate to Kallman.

Readers have often interpreted this poem to be about religion, and much of Auden’s later works did have religious themes.  Many interpret the stars mentioned in this poem as God, and one’s relationship with Him can sometimes feel one-sided: One cannot actually see or literally have a conversation with God; instead, one must have blind faith that He actually exists.  However one chooses to interpret the poem, the beauty and magnificence of Auden’s imagery and diction are undeniable.

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Jamie joined the Poem Analysis team back in November, 2010. He has a passion for poetry and enjoys analysing and providing interpretations for poetry from the past and present.
  • Olena Zubrytska says:

    I enjoyed this interpretation very much. Although I love this poem, I have come to the conclusion that I disagree with Auden on this philosophy. It really is a cruel existence if we settle on pursuing an unrequited love. Although it may be naive thinking, I choose to believe in true requited love. The line about indifference being the least we have to fear from others always forces me to reflect. I think that indifference is worse than love and even hate. Indifference is the complete absence of emotions, the lack of care. There is nothing worse than caring so deeply for someone who is not concerned with you or your feelings whatsoever. The other line that stands out to me is “If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me”. Auden hopes for an equally passionate love, however chooses to be the giver rather than the recipient if this love is not possible. It is much easier to be loved than to love, but Auden knows seems to know the consequence of loving too little. Finally, it is interesting that Auden mentions that he would learn to love an empty sky if all the stars were to disappear, since it shows that his true purpose was not loving the stars themselves, but loving in general. The need to express his inner emotions and channel his feelings towards a source, shows that he is perfectly content with the unrequited love since he is in love with loving someone instead of being in love with the someone themselves.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Yeah, there are definite allusions to the speaker being a Petracharn lover! I agree with you, unrequited love is not an idea that should be exhausted. Find someone who cares about you as much as you do them! That’s the way froward!

  • William Liles says:

    What do people today know of LOVE.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      I don’t know, I just work here!

  • I think this is Auden’s meditation on how love often comes in ways we do not observe, regard, or even recognize… such as the love our universe most certainly has for it’s creations… death and disease and deception may make it seem as if there is no regard, just indifference for us… but that is because we see ourselves as separate from each other… in truth, the universe shows it’s love by allowing us to exist at all… what happens to each of us in fact happens to all of us… faith in each other, ourselves, and the choice to go on existing, accepting the supposed whims of an indifferent universe even when we can point to no verifiable purpose, that is our expression of love, and the universe shows it’s love by our very creation and existence.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      What a beautiful and eloquent response. I really like your interpretation of the poem and a lovely philosophy in general.

  • macdonald says:

    on earth indifference line
    this is how cruel and savage people are indifference is a preferable

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      To be fair the put down was pretty clever! We just want to know how we can improve! Always looking to make the site better!

  • Poetaster says:

    Superficiality is the most
    we have to fear
    From guest or host

    Not to mention crappy interpretations

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      In what way did you think our interpretation was in inept?

  • >

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