Please explain Auden's poem "O Where Are You Going?"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Like one of his mentors, Thomas Hardy, w. H. Auden felt that suffering was an integral part of life,

"Suffering was integral to God's love and the forgiveness of sins."

Like the active person of his poem, Auden did not stop in his search for human and divine love.  In his poem "O Where Are You Going?" there is a dialectic between the active and the passive personalities.  These contrasts are felt by the sound of the poem which has cosonant sounds working against vowel sounds:  "diligent/discover," "granite/grass," "skin/shocking," etc.

The contrast, too, is between the active and the passive.  In the first stanza, for instance, the passive reader asks the title question to the active rider; in the next stanza, it is the passive fearer to the active farer; and the passive horror to the active hearer.

Auden's art has been described as that of stripper of deception, a disenchanter who recognized the negative factors of his times.  In this poem, the poet points to the pollution caused by furnaces, perhaps steel mills since he grew up in Brimiingham, England, and metaphorically, the darkness that resides in the hearts of men.  The third stanza points to the effect that this pollution has upon animal and man alike:  the bird is twisted, the man's skin is a "shocking disease." Nevertheless, the active participant in the dialectic leaves and the horror is left alone. In his movement, the hearer may, in fact, escape while the passive who fearfully remain may become the victims of what they have most feared.

genisam | Student
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W. H. Auden

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