Modernity and Tradition in the Work of Auden Essay

Modernity and Tradition in the Work of Auden
Literature is a creative way of presenting reality. Good day, to you, friends and to our dear professor. I am here to share with you a literary experience that would surely make you think and explore. In my attempt to discuss a poem, I hope to attain two objectives: one is to inform and another to entertain. Through a thorough discussion of a poem by W.H. Auden, I hope to prove the author’s modern way of thinking and presentation of human emotion. The symbol he uses and his style makes him a good example of a 21st century poet. To elaborate on my stance, let me discuss the poem, “The More Loving One.” For your part, I beg you to reflect on the message of the poem, and evaluate whether my claim about Auden is correct.
To understand the poem, we should first analyze three elements: the persona, addressee, and situation. The persona is the speaker in the poem. In this case, I believe that the persona is either a male or a female. While most of us would argue that since the author is male, the persona is likewise male. However, if we look closely, we will find out the author’s intention to make the experience a universal one by not assigning gender to the persona. He achieves this through the use of a neutral symbol and by not using stereotypes.
The poem is addressed to the general audience. The author does not mention a specific person to whom the poem is addressed. This way, he wants to share the human emotion to people of all ages. Looking at the persona and addressees alone, we can see the author’s attempt to achieve universality, a characteristic of a modern writer. Particularly, his sensitivity to gender is one ideal characteristic of a 21st century writer.
In the poem, we see the persona’s views about love and people in general. In the first stanza, the persona expresses the view that the least thing we could expect from any living creature is to be indifferent. This also means that everyone is capable of loving. As we can note, in the first stanza alone, the author already introduces a general view to which everyone will agree. Through this alone, we can see his attempt to win agreement of his general audience.
In addition, the use of stars is a symbol to represent people either male or female. Although stars are usually associated with women in traditional poetry, I believe that the author uses them in the poem to suggest universality. That is, if one assigns a male persona, the stars would be female, but if one should assign a female persona, they could likewise be male. Note that the author uses stars instead of flowers, or anything that could suggest gender such as the sun or moon. By using stars, he wants us to perceive a neutral feeling, thus making each of us relate to the idea presented in the poem.
In the second stanza, the author tries to narrow down the thought to the personal level. The persona expresses how sad it would be to find love that cannot be returned. Thus, s/he prefers to be the more loving one, or simply, to have more love than to be offered love that s/he cannot return.
In the third stanza, we find a slight change in the feelings of the persona. From the passionate person who would not want to encounter unrequited love, the persona expresses inability to love someone specific. This is expressed in the lines, “I cannot, now I see them, say I missed one terribly all day.” Thus, we see a slightly detached persona in this stanza.
The fourth and last stanza supports the two ideas regarding the persona. The first two lines, “Were all stars to disappear or die, I should learn to look at an empty sky” gives the notion that life will not be complete without “the stars.” However, the next two lines also express ability to be detached. Previously the persona expresses the emptiness one would feel without the stars but the phrase, “a little time” shows that the persona would have this feeling only for a short while.
In our analysis, we may note that while Auden presents a passionate persona, he also attempts to neutralize the feeling and come up with a level-headed view of love, thus making the persona truly represent a modern person who can strike a balance at everything. The persona we see in the poem is an epitome of a 21st century individual who is capable of true love without losing oneself fully to it, such as being insane or bewildered. If we are to compare this persona from the shepherds and knights in the poems of earlier poets, we can see a big difference in the persona’s view of love and beauty. Likewise, this persona is far better than the damsels in distress and the witches who give a wrong notion of love.
The simple but direct language Auden uses adds to the modernity of the poem. Notably, the informality in the second line that says, “for all they care, I can go to hell” gives a strong reference to the modern use of the language. Moreover, the personality of the persona, imbued by both passion and detachment speaks of contemporary views about love.
While the poet may be viewed as totally adhering to the contemporary style, he also maintains some traditional sense. Known for his use of personification, Auden assigns personal qualities to the stars throughout the poem. In the first stanza, he pictures them as creatures that can talk. In the next stanza, he assigns them the ability to “burn with a passion” or simply, to feel intense love. Notice the use of metonymy in the said line. In addition, the author uses the a-a-b-b rhyme, a characteristic of traditional poetry. Moreover, the imagery achieved through the use of nature is an element we have encountered in earlier poetry. This device, which employs nature as the vehicle, may be rooted from the Romantic period.  Furthermore, the sentimental tone that Auden achieves elaborates his ability to combine tradition with modernity. Indeed, Auden is a good example of a 21st century poet.


Auden, W.H. (1957). The more loving one.  Retrieved December 6, 2008, from

Hamilton, Craig. (2002). Mapping the mind and the body: On W.H. Auden’s personifications. Retrieved December 8, 2008, from

Hanson, Thomas. (2007). W.H. Auden poetry profile. Retrieved December 8, 2008, from