What are the roles of artists in W.H. Auden poetry ?
W.H Auden was born in 1907 in the town of York. Later he studied at Oxford University to become a literature teacher and a poet. He spent few years in Berlin but travelled also to Spain then to the USA, always committed politically. “Selected Poems” is published in 1930, after the war, to report people's feelings and reality of the time.
W.H. Auden's poetry raises a wide range of issues and subjects such as love, war, relations or even psychology but as a user of art himself, Auden gives an important role to art and artists in his work. In several poems, through poetry, his own art, he has chosen to highlight other forms of art to show many different points of view and work he finds interesting. The poem “Musée des Beaux Arts” can illustrate the link that Auden made between poetry and painting. In the first stanza, Auden points out the talent and the uncommon foresight of the Old Masters that are 16th -17th European painters, to describe indifference and selfishness to the suffering of the others, as they are too absorbed by their own life. Old Masters quoted here are artists described as more attentive, learned than others, with a capacity to understand what people ignore “they were never wrong/how well they understood”. Their pictorial form of work depicts this recurrent problem in humanity which is something that Auden seems to admire. Indeed, in the second stanza, the representation of suffering made by Brueghel with his painting “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” seemed so prodigiously done that Auden, instead of giving his own definition of suffering, uses the painting and describes the painted characters, the atmosphere poetically, which can make the reader easily think that the poet speaks to an unseen listener. Thus his description gives another dimension to the painting, whereas the painting helps the poet to treat the subject, this way, they are complementary. The work of the poet is directly linked to the painter's one as they create an image, a landscape composed of colours, movements existing differently : on the one hand by association of words “the sun shone/white legs/into the green water” and on the other hand created by paint. Their role, associated together, is to make re-think about our relationship with others and the attention given to ourselves to the detriment of other's. They act as witnesses of the suffering. Through a piece of art another one is shown by the process of the “mise en abyme”. However, Brueghel was not the only artist quoted by Auden. On the occasion of the outbreak of World War II, Auden wrote the poem September 1, 1939 in which he evokes the conflicting situation that is spreading over Europe ; in the same poem we also find the names of Nijinsky and Diaghilev who are two important figures of the Russian scene being respectively dancer and a manager, the creator of the Russian Ballets. The verses “What mad Nijinski wrote About Diaghilev Is true of the normal heart” refer to their personal life and especially the time when Nijinsky was diagnosed with schizophrenia and wrote notebooks where hateful quotes relate to Diaghilev. Indeed the latter threw Nijinsky out of the Russian Ballet and ruined his carreer after he left him to marry a woman. Auden opted for Nijinsky and Diaghilev as a couple to illustrate the fact that people are not interested in universal love but only by being loved personnally “Not universal love But to be loved alone”, the poet examplifies the fact that the actual situation (i.e. 1939's war) is caused partly by men selfishness, a fault that appeared also within a love relationship. Their role in the poem is to make an example as two important figures, that everyone is familiar with. Differently, Auden inserts a fictional character and artist in his poem “The Shield of Achilles”: Vulcan the ancient Roman god of fire, a blacksmith who forges the famous shield of Achilles adorned with imagery. In...
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