What is the critical analysis of the poem "O What is That Sound"?

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beateach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The poem “O What is That Sound” by W.H. Auden is written as a conversation between a husband and wife who are watching a group of soldiers from the window of their home in the countryside. The poem is written in an ABAB rhyming pattern with four beats to a line mimicking the movement of the soldiers some of whom are on horses. Each of the first eight stanzas starts with a question about the movements of army. These questions provide a description of what the couple hears and sees. “O what is that sound which so thrills the ear, Down in the valley drumming, drumming?” In addition, in the next stanza, “O what is that light I see flashing so clear, Over the distance brightly, brightly?” Some believe the first voice is the woman questioning her husband but others feel it is the reverse. This adds to the vagueness of the poem. In each case, the person answering provides reassurances.

They follow the movement of the army along the road from the doctor’s house, to the parson’s house, and past the farmer’s house searching for a reason for the soldiers to be on the move that particular day. The tone of the poem changes in the eighth stanza as there is a realization that the soldiers are heading to their house. There is a question of vows and love before one of them leaves and the soldiers break into the house, “Their boots are heavy on the floor, And their eyes are burning.” The ending leaves the reader to his/her thoughts.