Who is the speaker in “The Watchers”?

The speaker in “The Watchers” could be inspired by Auden himself. In the poem, the speaker refers to the Scottish town of Helensburgh, where Auden taught at a prep school.

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More often than not, it's seldom a good idea to equate the speaker of a poem with the poet. Most poets, in writing their poetry, tend to adopt a persona which, although it may share certain similarities with themselves, is not quite the same individual. This can also be said in the case of “The Watchers” by W. H. Auden, in which the speaker and poet share many similarities, yet they are still considered to be distinct individuals.

Similarities between poet and speaker include the speaker's reference to the Great Bear constellation hanging “as a portent over Helensburgh.” Helensburgh is a small town in South West Scotland, and when he was a young man, Auden taught for a couple of years at a boys' prep school in the town called Larchfield Academy.

The poem could really be about anywhere, as Auden is dealing with the universal theme of the numerous contrasts and contradictions in the world in which we live. And yet Auden chooses to name-check Helensburgh, the town in which he was living when he wrote “The Watchers,” as a way of giving the poem a sense of place.

This in itself provides another contrast in addition to those already contained in the poem, that between the universality of the main theme with which the poem deals and the specificity, the particularity, of the small Scottish town which inspired Auden to write “The Watchers.”

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