Studium anglistiky na KAA UPOL

(21) Political 30s in Poetry.

(C. Day-Lewis, L. MacNeice, and S. Spender).


T h e  T w e n t i e t h  C e n t u r y

[see "Background for Topics 12-27..."]


‘ A u d e n  C i r c l e ’  ( l a t e  1 9 2 0 s – e a r l y  1 9 3 0 s )

- named for the most active member W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden

= a group of young E poets at Oxford in the interwar period

- incl. W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender

- the neutral Louise MacNeice also sometimes incl.

- the Cambridge novelists Edward Upward (b. 1903) and Christopher Isherwood (1904 – 86) also may be associated

- aspired to bring new techniques and attitudes to E poetry

- shared socialist sympathies with a strongly Marxist hue: socialism = the leading vehicle for social, sexual, and lit. emancipation

- sided with the Left in a class-war to purge the inhered guilt of the upper and middle classes, supported the Sp. Rep. in the Civil War: L. MacNeice and S. Spender made investigative visits to the front line, W. H. Auden participated at propaganda broadcasts

- [Sp. Civil War (1936 – 39) = the right-wing nationalist General Francisco Franco (1892 – 1975) rebelled against the Republican government and succeeded to establ. a personal dictatorship]

- C. Day-Lewis and S. Spender joined the Communist Party

- the new school fell soon apart and each poet went his own separate way


W ( y s t a n )  H ( u g h )  A u d e n  ( 1 9 0 7 – 7 3 )

L i f e :

- sympathised with the Left in the 1930s: went to Sp. during the Civil War as an ambulance driver on the left-wing Republican side x but: disturbed by the gutting of Rom. Cath. churches by the Republicans => left his ambition unfulfilled

- travelled Iceland and China

- became a professor of poetry at Oxford

- became an Am. citizen (1946) x but: returned to En. in the last y. of his life

- homosexual (like C. Isherwood)

W o r k :

< T. S. Eliot > wit and irony

< G. M. Hopkins and W. Owen > metrical techniques

- after having his poems publ. in T. S. Eliot’s The Criterion and his coll. Poems (1930) by E.’s ‘Faber and Faber’ experienced a rapid rise to fame

> compared to J. Dryden’s lively intelligence and immense craftsmanship x but: an uneven poet

1 9 3 0 s  P e r i o d :
(a) poetry:

< the Depression (1929 in Am., soon afterwards in En.)

< K. Marx’s perception of the decay of late capitalist society, S. Freud’s approach to psychic disorder, and a relation of both to the imagined landscapes of E.’s The Waste Land

= the poet of of his times (the Depression)

- confronts modern problems directly rather to filter them through symbolic situations like E.

- diagnoses the ills of his country = not the metaphorical Waste Land of E. x but: a more literal Waste Land of poverty and ‘depressed areas’

- employs deliberate irreverence, even clowning x but: proves his verbal craftsmanship

=> produces lively poetry of a nervous force

Poems (1930)

Look Stranger! (1936):

- the title: from the opening line of one of the most sharply focused poems

- substituted the title for On This Island for the Am. ed.

- later renamed the respective poem “Seascape”

> “Seascape”, contrasts the perspectives of ‘far off’ x ‘stable here’ x but: allows for a free interpretation of the insistent direction ‘Look’

(b) drama:

- in collab. with C. Isherwood

The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935): critically successful

The Ascent of F6 (1936): a dramatic parable of power and will

On the Frontier (1938): less well-received

(c) prose:

Letters from Iceland (1937):

< his trek across Iceland with L. MacNeice

- remarkable more for its poetry than for its amateur photographic illustr.

> “Letter to Lord Byron”, reveals his relish for the ‘something light and easy’ (and the ultimately serious) of Don Juan he took with him to ‘humourless’ Iceland

1 9 4 0 s – 5 0 s  P e r i o d :

- moves from a Marxist alignment to a Christian one: takes a more relig. view of personal responsibility and traditional value, and prefers individual freedoms to the demands of community

- removes to the USA (1939), accepts the US citizenship (1946), and breaks with his personal, political, and lit. past to become a reviser of the excesses of his poetic youth

- combines elements from pop. art x an extreme technical formality, a colloquial tone x high artifice, etc.

=> controls his desire to shock and produces poetry of disciplined movement, clarity, and unsentimental feeling

Another Time (1940)

The Sea and the Mirror (1945):

= a sequence of meditations on W. Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611)

- celebrates the Islands

Nones (1951):

= the best example of the combination / alternation of the grave x the flippant

“September 1, 1939”:

- the title: from the day of Adolf Hitler’s (1889 – 1945) invasion of Poland and the consequent precipitation of Br. into the WW II

- declares independence from the ‘State’ in favour of an alternate dependence on human relationships

revised: the orig. poem attempted to deny the significance of the insular x but: later his continental pull slackened and insular responses predominated [see also his The Sea and the Mirror]

“Musée des Beaux Arts”:

- claims suffering and ‘its human position’ a key conc. of art

- uses the example of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s (ca 1525 – 69, a Flemish painter) painting The Fall of Icarus

1 9 6 0 s – 7 0 s  P e r i o d :
(a) poetry:

- experiences deepening relig. feelings

- becomes sceptical of all remedies for modern ills and seeks refugee in love and friendship => produces poetry increasingly personal in tone

- discovers for himself what Eliot calls an ‘objective correlative’ = ‘a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events’ to become the formula for ‘particular’ emotion

About the House (1967)

City Without Walls (1970)

“In Praise of Limestone”:

- presents a landscape as a psychological state [see the ‘objective correlative’]

- limestone = typifies his own unpredictability, elusiveness, and his fondness for change

- 1930s: subversion and unpredictability troubled him x now: celebrates them as the evidence of the divine

(b) prose:

- responds to the ‘old masters’ = poets, painters, thinkers, and composers

The Dyer’s Hand (1962) and Forewords and Afterwords (1973): coll. of critical essays


C e c i l  D a y - L e w i s  ( 1 9 0 4 – 7 2 )

> received the post of Poet Laureate (1968)

1 9 3 0 s  P e r i o d :

- enthusiastic about the prospect of a Marxist transformation of society

The Magnetic Mountain (1933)

A Time to Dance (1935):

(a) poems of heroic celebration: “A Time to Dance”, celebrates the pioneer airmen

(b) poems of the depressed En.: “A Carol”, a sardonic lullaby

(c) socialist poems: “An Address to Death”, asserts the time to dance to be now and ‘in the rhythm of comrades’

(d) more ambiguous poems:

- “The Conflict”, a poet sings on a deck in a sea storm to ‘keep men’s courage up’ = the floundering ship of capitalism? or the Party itself? x but: the poet finds himself ‘between two massing powers…whom neutrality cannot save’

- “In Me Two Worlds”, the poet = a battlefield with past and future meeting to fight = ‘the armies of the dead’ and ‘the men to come’ (<=> M. Arnold’s ignorant armies clashing by night in “Dover Beach”)

1 9 4 0 s  P e r i o d :

- retreats from the confident Marxist analyses with the approach of the WW II

Overtures to Death (1939)

Poems in Wartime (1940)

“Regency Houses”:

- the faded elegance of a 19th c. terrace:

(a) a metaphor for condemned bourgeois society

(b) a metaphor for the disillusion of those ‘hoping too much…in younger days’

1 9 5 0 s +  P e r i o d :

- transl. Virgil = the poet oscillating btw public celebrations of a national mission x a delight in bucolic retreat

The Georgics (1940), The Aeneid (1952), and The Eclogues (1963)


L o u i s  M a c N e i c e  ( 1 9 0 7 – 6 3 )

L i f e :

- b. in Belfast (Northern Ir.)

- experienced an unhappy childhood due to his mother’s premature death

- travelled to Iceland with W. H. Auden, to Sp. during the Civil War, and to USA at the beginning of WW II

- became a lecturer in classics, for the rest of his life worked as a feature writer and producer for the BBC

- retained political neutrality x unlike the oth. Oxford poets: L.: ‘My sympathies are Left. On paper and in my soul. But not in my heart or my guts.’

W o r k :

= pioneered radio drama, wrote plays, poetry, lit. criticism, and transl.

P o e t r y :

< an Ulsterman by birth and tradition > the geography and the folklore of Ir. haunt his verse x but: no commitment to any political or relig. establishment: neither Protestant nor Cath., neither Unionist nor Nationalist

- delights in the surface of the world his senses apprehend, often adds wit and a wild gaiety: “Bagpipe Music”

x but: remains aware of the temporality of all things: incl. an underlying sense of sadness and sometimes tragedy

- landscape x townscape poems provide him a focus for his preocc. with ambiguity and for his divided lit. loyalty btw Ir. x En.

- recognises his own contradictions as an artist in the external manifestations of human history, in the city as much as in the country

- undergoes a process of questioning and balancing those contradictions => a remarkable thematic consistency of his poetry

=> produces open and honest poetry of a consistently high level of craftsmanship: the 2nd only to W. H. Auden among the poets of his generation

“Eclogue for Christmas”, “Eclogue by a Five-barred Gate”, “Eclogue from Iceland”, and “Eclogue between the Motherless”:

= a series of early verse dialogues

Poems (1935):

> “Snow”, celebrates ‘the drunkenness of things being various’

> “Birmingham”, pays a tribute to the city in which he taught after graduating from Oxford, in a series of fragmentary impressions of cars, factories, and half-timbered suburban houses

Plant and Phantom (1941):

> “Entirely”, claims no way to be right entirely in the modern reality

> “London Rain”, fluctuates btw a God of discipline x a God of liberty, the ascetic x the sensual

Springboard (1944):

> “Prayer Before Birth”, a charm-like demand for the spirit of delight and freedom from those ‘who would freeze’ his humanity

- “Neutrality”, a parallel btw the geographical entity  ‘the neutral island in the heart of man’ = both ostensibly non-committed x but: both internally vexed in the wartime

Holes in the Sky (1948):

> “Woods”, compares his father’s relish for empty Ir. moorlands x his own for the woodlands of the ‘tame’ E landscape

The Burning Perch (1963):

> Wessex Guidebook, shaped by his feel for a lush and varied E West Country with archaeological, historical, and lit. associations; concl. with the indifference of Time to men and of men to history in a deliberate and appropriately Hardyan tone

Also wrote following poems of distinction:

“The Sunlight on the Garden”, “Meeting Point”, “Sunday Morning”, “The Suicide”

P r o s e :

The Strings are False (1965):

= an unfinished autobiog.

< among oth. also describes his enthusiasm as a schoolboy for T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land

- also describes his feeling for urban unloveliness

Also wrote:

- a transl. of Aeschylus’s Agamemnon (1936), in an often colloquial and distinctly unheroic verse

- a transl. of Goethe’s Faust


S t e p h e n  S p e n d e r  ( 1 9 0 9 – 9 5 )

1 9 3 0 s  P e r i o d :

Twenty Poems (1920), Poems (1933), and The Still Centre (1939):

- intermixes public, political, and private verse:

> “Beethoven’s Death Mask”, adulates the Romantic hero

> “What I Expected”, un-Romantically analyses himself

> “An Elementary School Classroom in a Slum”, points out the cultural anomalies and conflicts of class interest in inter-war Br.

> “A Footnote (from Marx’s Chapter, The Working Day)”, shows his sense of historical injustice in his evocation of the voices of Victorian slum-children

- achieves the most effective balance of personal response and public engagement in the poems of his Sp. Civil War experience:

> “Two Armies” and “Ultima Ratio Regum”, develop erotic implications of the intimacy of huddled sleeping soldiers sharing ‘a common suffering’ and of a boy’s corpse being ‘a better target for a kiss’

> “Fall of a City” and “Thoughts During an Air Raid”, gives a mosaic of impressions of defeat and the sense of an already fragmentary ‘I’ threatened with physical dissolution

> “Port Bou”, confesses his failure to convey a sense of the heroic at the ‘still centre’ both of the war and of the poet’s consciousness: the speaker sits ‘at the exact centre’ of the town, solitary except for some dogs, and unable to identify himself either with the embattled townspeople or with the dogs, neither disillusioned nor capable of maintaining the illusion of courage

> “I think continually of those who were great”, “In railway halls”, “Seascape”, “The Pylons”

- preface to The Still Centre, explains why the poems had not struck a more heroic note: S.: ‘a poet can only write about what is true to his own experience, not about what he would like to be true to his experience’

1 9 4 0 s  P e r i o d :

- continues with the inconclusiveness enhanced by a new evocation of the destructive energy of battle in his poems of WW II

“Air Raid across the bay at Plymouth”

“Epilogue to a Human Drama”: set in the blitzed London

1 9 5 0 s +  P e r i o d :

- retreats from his short-lived attempt to marry Liberalism and Marxism

=> puts an increasing stress on private emotions and relationships

World Within World (1951): a prose autobiog.


Abrams, Meyer Howard, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.

Barnard, Robert. Stručné dějiny anglické literatury. Praha: Brána, 1997.

Sanders, Andrew. The Short Oxford History of English Literature. New York: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Other Sources

Práger, Libor. Semináře: Britská literatura 2. ZS 2004/05.



© 2008-2015 Všechna práva vyhrazena.