What is the meaning or annotation of the following lines from Auden's poem "Spain 1937"?

  • What is "counting frame" in stanza 1, line 3?
  • "Yesterday the abolition of fairies and giants . . . Yesterday the carving of angels and alarming gargoyles," stanza 3.
  • "The trial of heretics among the columns of stone," stanza 4. What are the "columns of stone?"?
  • "Yesterday the belief in the absolute value of the Greek, the fall of the curtain upon the death of a hero," stanza 6.
  • "As the poet whispers, startled among the pines . . . 'O my vision. O send me the luck of a sailor,' " stanza 7.
  • "As the investigator peers through his instrument . . . But the lives of my friends. I inquire, I inquire," stanza 8.
  • "Our day is our loss . . . time the refreshing river," stanza 9.
  • What is the "city state of the sponge" in stanza 10?
  • "Oh no, I am not the mover," stanza 12. What is meant by "mover" here?
  • "On that tableland scored by river . . . the menacing shapes of our fever," stanza 17.
  • "Are precise and alive . . . to the medicine ad . . . the ruin," stanza 18.
  • Please explain stanzas 19 and 20.
  • Expert Answers

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    Auden's first several stanzas draw contrasts between the Europe of yesterday and the conflict-ridden Europe of the present day. A "counting-frame" (similar to an abacus) is a mathematical instrument, and a "cromlech" is a proto-religious monumental tomb (similar to England's Stonehenge). Auden's first stanza remarks that the world in days gone by was reverential to "angels" and "gargoyles" and replete with "navigators." This is all ultimately compared to "the struggle" of the Civil War (the refrain of stanzas 4–6, 22, and 23). In service of this comparison, Auden adduces "the counting-frame" and "the cromlech" to stand in for mathematical and scientific pursuits and religion, respectively.

    The "fairies" represent paganism and other mythical religious folklore, and the "carving of angels" symbolizes the replacement of this folkloric religion with Christianity.

    "The trial of heretics among the columns of stone" (stanza 4) is an allusion to the Spanish Inquisition of the mid-fifteenth...

    (The entire section contains 641 words.)

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