Born Wystan Hugh Auden in York, England on February 21st, 1907, WH Auden was an Anglo-American poet, essayist and playwright. Growing up in Birmingham, England and later moving to the United States, WH Auden knew early on that his passion for words was going to outweigh the decision for him to become a miner.
His passion for words manifested itself in free form poetry as well as haiku, villanelles, ballads and limericks. Auden had his fair share of critics back in his day but his stature in modern poetry was not sealed until his death. The Encyclopedia Britannica states “by the time of Eliot’s death in 1965 … a convincing case could be made for the assertion that Auden was indeed Eliot’s successor, as Eliot had inherited sole claim to supremacy when Yeats died in 1939.”
All in all, Auden had authored about four hundred poems, including seven long poems (two of them book-length). In addition, he wrote more than four hundred essays and reviews about literature, history, politics, music, religion among other.
Epitaph of a Tyrant
By: WH Auden
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
I find this poem to be very intriguing. In fact, I have studied it a number of times in order to gain more insight from it. My first reading of the poem led my to directly equate the tyrant to Hitler. It is very well known that Hitler was after the questionable quest of creating the perfect race. The perfectly understood poetry may as well have been his propaganda engine. Of course, he knew how to manipulate people and control them. Soon his interests grew to larger power and control. He commanded armies and fleets as well senators. When he was in a bad mood, he killed his own people effectively “destroying” the future.
My second reading had me focus on the word poetry first and foremost. What if the tyrant was really artist or a writer exacting complete control over a universe of their own creation?
When I read this now, all I can think about is tyranny in and off of itself. If you can imagine the tyrant to be an extremely passionate person questing after an element at all cost via influence and control of the people surrounding them, then tyrant are no longer relegated to heads of state. In fact many walk around us in our everyday life: perhaps a business owner or a department head, perhaps a teacher or a parent. The scale of devastation may be limited but to those impacted by it, it is all that counts.
Call To Action:
WH Auden effectively wrote an epitaph that captured the true inner workings of a tyrant. What sort of epitaph would you write? How encompassing would it be?
Here is my attempt.
Epitaph of a Shaman
By: Meena Rose
Connection, compassion and concession
Where are all thing she was after;
Her heartsong was a love song any would understand;
She knew earthly desire like the back of her hand,
And was keen on equality, balance and fairness;
When she laughed, the children thrived,
And when she cried, thunder struck.
- W. H. Auden Says It Best! (firstnightdesign.wordpress.com)
- Ekphrastic Poetry Goes Fishing (2voices1song.com)
- W.H. Auden Recites His 1937 Poem, “As I Walked Out One Evening” (openculture.com)
- Belated Poetry Attempt (2voices1song.com)
- My Poem ‘Morphology’ (poetofthesphere.com)