W. H. Auden

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What is a critical appreciation of the poem "The Capital" by W.H. Auden?

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W. H. Auden presents a capital city as a microcosm of modern urban society. The poem uses apostrophe, or direct address to an inanimate object: in this case, the city itself. He juxtaposes the positive and negative aspects of urban life, making it seem like the city itself is to...

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W. H. Auden presents a capital city as a microcosm of modern urban society. The poem uses apostrophe, or direct address to an inanimate object: in this case, the city itself. He juxtaposes the positive and negative aspects of urban life, making it seem like the city itself is to blame. Sensory imagery abounds, and he contrasts light and dark, visible and invisible, and reason and passion—all form part of the capital’s deceptive allure.

From the beginning, the poet establishes the capital’s charms as correlated with deception. In the “quarter of pleasures,” at cafes the “lovers eat each other”; the music and the looks give false impressions: “with orchestras and glances, O, you betray us.”

The poet then draws a connection between innocence, as inadequate visual vigilance (“innocent unobservant”), and susceptibility to passion (“invisible furies”).

. . . the innocent
Unobservant offender falls in a moment
Victim to his heart's invisible furies.

The light/dark contrast is established in the second stanza: “far from your lights . . .” It is brought home as he emphasizes it in the last two stanzas, combined to indicate hidden temptation—“unlighted streets you hide away”; “the sky you illumine . . . the farmer’s children you beckon.”

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