W. H. Auden

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What is an analysis of "Seascape" by W. H. Auden?

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In "Seascape," W. H. Auden presents a simple scene of cliffs, the surf, and the sea, but he enhances the scene through irregular lines and rhymes and through poetic and linguistic devices like vivid sensory details, metaphor, simile, personification, and alliteration.

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An analysis of any poem will discuss its form and structure, content, and poetic/linguistic devices. Let's look at these elements in “Seascape” by W. H. Auden.

This poem consists of three stanzas, the first and third with seven lines each and the second with eight lines. The lines vary in length with the lines 1, 2, 5, and 7 of the first and third stanzas being longer than lines 3, 4, and 6. The second stanza contains longer lines in positions 1, 2, 5, and 8, with shorter lines in positions 3, 4, 6, and 7. Line 6 of the second stanza is actually quite odd. It contains only the suffix “-ing” to complete the last word of the previous line and the word “surf.” The poet thus chooses an odd manner of creating the rhyme “pluck” and “suck.”

The poem's rhyme scheme is really rather irregular. The first stanza shows an abcdced pattern while the second stanza features abcdcebd. In the second stanza, however, the rhyme of “ledges” and “lodges” is not actually fully rhyming. It is close enough, however, to suggest a rhyme. The third stanza's pattern runs abcdced, repeating the scheme in the first stanza. Auden deliberately chooses irregular forms to give his poem interest.

We can now turn to the poem's content. The speaker is talking to a stranger and inviting him to stand still and quiet and look out to the sea. He describes the chalk cliffs and the tide, the surf and shingle (the rocky beach). He notices the ships far off in the distance and reflects that the scene may well enter the stranger's memory and move about as the clouds are reflected on the water.

The scene, then, is simple, but the poet greatly enhances it through his poetic and linguistic devices. The poet uses vivid sensory details like “leaping light” and “the chalk wall falls to the foam.” He also employs metaphor as when he compares the memory of the scene with the clouds reflected on the water. This suggests that the scene will not remain in the memory exactly as it appears. Rather, it is reflected and interpreted, seen from a different angle and a new perspective. Simile appears as well, as the poet describes the sound of the sea wandering “like a river” through the stranger's ear, and the ships appear “like floating seeds” in the distance. Auden also uses personification. The clouds “saunter” through the water, and the “shingle scrambles” following the surf. The tide knocks. Finally, the poem contains alliteration (the repetition of initial sounds) as in “the leaping light for your delight discovers.” Other sounds also repeat within the poetic lines as in “diverge on urgent” and “harbour mirror.”

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