What are some poetic devices in W. H. Auden's "The Average"?
His peasant parents killed themselves with toil
To let their darling leave a stingy soil
For any of those smart professions which
Encourage shallow breathing, and grow rich.
The pressure of their fond ambition made
Their shy and country-loving child afraid
No sensible career was good enough,
Only a hero could deserve such love.
So here he was without maps or supplies,
A hundred miles from any decent town;
The desert glared into his blood-shot eyes;
The silence roared displeasure: looking down,
He saw the shadow of an Average Man
Attempting the exceptional, and ran.
When trying to detect poetic devices in a poem, the best way is to take a copy of it and to highlight any particular words or phrases that are intriguing or stand out, then to try and work out if these phrases contain any poetic devices. Reading the poem out loud can likewise aid in this process, as you can "hear" a number of the sound effects created which may not be so apparent if you only read the poem. The idea is that by annotating poems and reading them aloud we interact with them, helping us to understand them better and "unpicking" some of the devices employed.
With this poem, there is alliteration in the first stanza in "peasant parents" and "stingy soil." Notice as well there is also irony in the "smart professions" that encourage "shallow breathing" as opposed to the deep, worthy breathing of working the land, as modelled by the "average man's" parents. This division between the worthy job of working the land which is nonetheless scorned by society and more worthy professions is one that will dominate the poem.
The desert is personified in stanza three, as it is pictured "glaring" into the "blood-shot eyes" of the average man, and then we are given a paradox in stanza four:
The silence roared displeasure...
Silence of course cannot literally "roar," but this helps us imagine the pressue this man was under and how he felt the expectations of his parents and the fear of failure crushing him.