Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The expansion and connection characteristic of the poem’s images and its verse are central to the meaning of “In Memory of Sigmund Freud.” The poem is in large part about modern alienation and fragmentation and how to overcome them. The isolation and disjunction of modern lives are highlighted by Freud’s having been a Jew in exile, the unconscious’ “delectable creatures” being “exiles,” freedom’s loneliness (stanza 23), and the description of “unequal moieties fractured” (stanzas 23 and following). These themes preoccupy many modernist writers, including T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce, whose works imitate their subjects through subjective, unconnected voices and disjointed syntax and structure. Auden resembles these and many other modernists in blaming rationality—and the elevation of reason—for these modern malaises. Auden, however, has chosen to imitate the connection he recommends instead of the fractured world around him.

Alienation and fragmentation can be cured through recognizing repressed problems. This acknowledgment results in free choice, a virtue which threatens evil because it empowers the individual to determine his or her own fate. His contemporary world gave relevance, even urgency, to Auden’s message. Implicit in the capitalization of the “monolith[ic] State” (stanzas 13 and 20), for example, is a criticism of World War II’s autocratic, Fascist countries, such as Germany and Italy. The...

(The entire section is 463 words.)