Anti-Romanticism of W.H Auden


Anti-Romanticism is the antithesis of Romanticism. Though some traits of Anti-Romanticism are in common with Classicism; Anti-Romantic poems tend to roughly hinge around the following concepts:

  • Ironic, indirect, and impersonal (objective) representation of ideas.
  • Uncompromising criticism of romantic illusions.
  • The opposition to unreal ideas and artificiality of treatment.
  • Satirisation of irrational and whimsical attitudes of the so-called aristocracy.
  • Criticism of established conventions of sentimental love, marriage, sex, religion, and rituals.
  • Criticism of social, political, cultural, and moral customs and manners of contemporary society.
  • Advocacy of pragmatism and disapproval of idealism.
  • Valuing reason over emotion and imagination.

Since "classicism" is the conventional term used to counter "romanticism," it may be necessary to clarify the link between the two terms. A worldview founded on classical ideas is typically thought to be contrary to romantic notions but Anti-romanticism was created as a response to Romanticism. 

Early in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," Eliot makes it apparent that his concern for tradition is anti-Romantic. He suggests that both critics and poets become aware of how each new work relates to the canon of literature. The result of Eliot's idea is a reduction in the significance placed on poetry's distinctive, ephemeral, and "Original" features by the Romantics.

Auden Under Eliot's Spell

We can break down Eliot's perception of poetry into three principal areas of consideration to describe Auden's particular take on the modern: 

  1. The problem of Tradition: the poet and his relation to the body of existing poetry.
  2. The problem of Personality: the relation of the poet as a man to his poem as an aesthetic creation.
  3. The problem of Communication: the relation of the poem to the audience.

Auden as Anti-Romantic

Since the outset, Auden has hoped that his talent for wordplay may inspire readers to work for moral change, but by the middle of the 1930s, when the fundamental elements of his distinctive method had matured, he was aware of the pressing issue. First, he was forced to reject the direct expression of moral truth as an arrogant declaration of his own desire for power that was comparable to fascism in polities. He was also persuaded by his research into human psychology that preaching directly to an audience was futile.

He concluded that modern readers would need to be tricked into being aware of themselves through indirect tactics of poetry. Since around 1935, his hunt for more effectiveness has driven the majority of his advancements in method and manner. He looks for a literary device that can startle, shock, or force his reader to do a thorough self-analysis in every poem, but he also avoids prejudging the parameters of that self-evaluation.

Most pervasive in Auden's poetic theory and practice is the impersonality enunciated by Eliot:
" Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality".
Auden is anti-Romantic because he correctly perceives poetry as an impersonal profession. According to Stephen Spender's account of Auden, the poet informed him that the subject of a poem was simply the hook used to hang the poetry. A poet was like a scientist who blended his poetry without being emotionally invested in them. 

In the late 1930s, he was able to and did speak to an educated middle class with left-wing or revolutionary tendencies. Only tangentially did Marxism affect Auden's poetry. Auden believed that a carefully chosen audience would allow him to share his personal vision with the world. As a result, towards the middle of the 1930s, he organised his poetry more anti-Romantically than ever before.

For Example

Realism over Romanticism

The loving speaker in "Lullaby" is conscious of his beloved's mortality and shame as well as his own lack of loyalty. They both, however, are fallible humans. Therefore, despite all of her flaws, the admirer considers his beloved to be completely attractive and desired.

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  1. Awesome sir
    1. Thanks dear :)
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