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Unusual mourning

Posted May. 04, 2022 08:27,   

Updated May. 04, 2022 08:27


“You were silly like us,” a poet wrote in mourning of his fellow poet. His words of mourning are quite unusual. They seem a bit rude given that they were for a maestro who was 40 years older than him. It is the phrase from “In Memory of W. B. Yeats” by W. H. Auden.

Auden wrote the poem a few months after Yeats passed away. While Auden respected Yeats, he was skeptical of the poet’s participation in the real world. Yeats was at the center of the Irish nationalism movement. It was his goal for Ireland to become independent politically and culturally from British colonialism. Despite his efforts, the reality didn’t change.

The poem was actually a self-reflection of Auden himself. He was a political poet who had a leftist view and was sensitive to social justice. However, he was skeptical of the idea that poetry should be a tool for societal and political changes. He believed that it was impossible for poetry to change the course of history. According to him, poetry didn’t save a single Jew during World War II. It was true back then and is true now. Poetry and art cannot save a single person in Ukraine under war. “Poetry makes nothing happen,” Auden said. This has become one of the most famous poetry lines in English literature.

This is the reality even though it is hard to admit. Then, should we just despair? Should we sit back and do nothing against injustice and violence? No. Auden argues that the poet does not have the power to change history so he should be devoted to the true nature of poetry. What did Auden think the true nature of poetry is? He said it is to break through the “frozen seas of pity” and “let the healing fountain start in the deserts of the heart.” Comforting those who have been hurt by history and reality through the power of language. This is the power and limitation of art. That’s why Auden wanted to discuss this paradox, mourning great poet Yeats’s death.