The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“In Memory of Sigmund Freud” is an elegy to the famous psychologist written in twenty-eight alcaic stanzas. W. H. Auden read works by Sigmund Freud when he was very young, and Freudian theories played an important part in Auden’s poetry throughout his life. Although the poem is a fitting tribute to the creator of psychoanalysis, it is better studied as a description of Freud’s importance to Auden and his influence on Auden’s own psychological, political, and aesthetic theories than as a precise description of Freud’s character or theories.

The first two stanzas remind the reader that Freud died during World War II, when many others were dying, and strike the moral note that will dominate the poem. Stanza 6 records Freud’s death in England, where he had fled when the Nazis occupied his native Austria in 1938. The remaining stanzas shift back and forth among metaphoric descriptions of Freud’s theories, Auden’s evaluation of those theories, and his discussion of his contemporary world. The “problems” of stanza 4 anticipate the complexity of Freud’s theories and Auden’s description of them.

Freud’s psychoanalysis rests upon the belief that psychological problems are provoked by emotions repressed in the unconscious. Stanza 3 concerns the lack of control of the unconscious and its determining effects upon individual lives. In stanzas 5 and 25, the unconscious is compared to “shades” and the “night.” Patients are...

(The entire section is 506 words.)