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O Where Are You Going? -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Daedalus Athenai:
(Poem #1508) O Where Are You Going?
 "O where are you going?" said reader to rider,
 "That valley is fatal when furnaces burn,
 Yonder's the midden whose odours will madden,
 That gap is the grave where the tall return."

 "O do you imagine," said fearer to farer,
 "That dusk will delay on your path to the pass,
 Your diligent looking discover the lacking
 Your footsteps feel from granite to grass?"

 "O what was that bird," said horror to hearer,
 "Did you see that shape in the twisted trees?
 Behind you swiftly the figure comes softly,
 The spot on your skin is a shocking disease."

 "Out of this house," said rider to reader,
 "Yours never will," said farer to fearer,
 "They're looking for you," said hearer to horror,
 As he left them there, as he left them there.
-- W H Auden
Commentary: I think this is a beautiful poem, although I don't pretend to
understand it. I just enjoy the rhythm, with its overtones of despair and
hope in the face of despair. The wonderful imagery has inspired me to paint
a series of pictures based on this poem.

~Daedalus

[thomas adds]

Vikram Doctor has a nice mini-essay on the nightmarish qualities of Auden's
mid-30s output, in his commentary on Poem #427 on the Minstrels website.
Other Auden poems on the Minstrels can be found here:
[broken link] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/index_poet_A.html#Auden

84 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

ab547 said...

my short introduction: I am an irregular follower of the minstrels but I
love it.

I think its a wonderful poem. Many a time you come across those who even
not dare to dream, forget doing. The poem tells inspires to keep the
insecurities aside, because the reason of living lies there, in the
experience. The reader is able to read today, because rider was there once.
I choose to be a rider, because I am not here for the 'vicarious' life.

-amit batra

Mallika Chellappa said...

 Lovely poem. I think it is about a young man or woman leaving home to spread his/her wings. The over-protective and sometimes downright unsupportive parents are the reader, fearer, horror.
Mallika

Celine said...

I find this poem beautiful. It reminds me of a poem named 'Excelsior' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

nix16 said...

I read this poem and it was the rhythm that struck me first, but then I read it again, trying to wrestle some sort of meaning from it. My thoughts are these: that Reader, Fearer, and Horror are the people in our lives, or even the parts of ourselves, that would keep us hidden away from the world for fear of the undiscovered. I enjoyed this poem, and had only ever read 'Twelve Songs' by Auden before this. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Having studied this poem for AS, I have to say that the ambiguity of it really confused me at first. However, after several reads I can see that the genius of it is the simplicity and the many ways in which it can be interpreted. Auden portrays perfectly the desperation of a parent unwilling to let their child grow up and leave and therefore willing to stoop to any means and any lie to convince them to stay. Yet the more sensible and mature child is patient enough to listen, but then give the last act of defiance and independence in the form of short, angry answers to the questions posed by the overbearing and overfearing parent. The message after all of this is clear: we must try to break free from any kind of oppression and not let others instill their fears into us. A truly inspirational poem!

Anonymous said...

Okay, so this relates to the Sigmund Freud theory? But who's the id and who is the ego? Are they both a combination? Would the extrovert *referring to comment above* (the child) be the instinctive id or realistic ego or would the introvert (the parent) be the id or the ego? I think they're both?

Jenny said...

It sounds to me, instead, like political oppression. The 'reader' represents passive members of society who know what is going on, but stand by and let things happen. The 'rider' instead refers to the brave who are willing to stand up to oppressors, even in the face of danger.

Michael Monroe said...

Rider in the first stanza is a deliberate homonym for "WRITER." Don't just read, write. Create. Chart your own course, destiny, leave the freaking house and get out there despite the nay-saying of the trembling fearfuls.

Anonymous said...

i think its about the tension of the opposites inside a person how cowardice lies to bring courage down.

Anonymous said...

All of the "characters" in this poem are in reference to the speaker. The reader, fearer and horror are the internal voices that tell you to take the easy route, to settle, to be one of the crowd. The rider, farer and hearer encourage the self to discover, critically observe, and experience the world. The ominous three stanzas that feature the stagnant characters entice the reader with ingenious syllable measure and repeated consonant sounds, not to mention the rhyme scheme. In the last stanza, the speaker abandons inclinations to stay put, keep to the beaten path, fear the unknown, as he "left them there." Auden's ornate verse, of course, makes his take on it something worth commenting on.

Anonymous said...

At college we were told it was about the war and about ranks of people! im so confused!

Anonymous said...

This poem has reference to the Cutty Wren, ancient English folk song, in some of words and the rhythm.

Anonymous said...

shit

Anonymous said...

i am really confused about two characters that who is asking questions and who is giving answers.is it man who is asking questions or woman?

Anonymous said...

There's a mistake in the poem. It's "where furnaces burn" not when

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Minxy said...

does anyone know when was this poem first published? where? and by whom?

Minxy said...

does anyone know when was this poem first published? where? and by whom?

Anonymous said...

I read it as a contextual comment on the lack of civilisation in Easternrope and the poor housing market in Aberdeen. The 'horror' could refer to the curtains, protecting us from the outside world and shielding us from the sunlight of facism. The 'rider' could in fact refer to the overbearing farmers of Bosnia, as they treat their pigs far too kindly for my liking. This is a provoking, saddening and sexually frustrating poem. It really delves into the world of career prospects, desire and the maltreatment and use of natural resources. Especially in southern Portugal.

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Anonymous said...

Its a marvelous poem, after giving several readings, I remembered the device of good angel and bad angel in Dr. Faustus. here I suppose these are the inner feelings of the person who wanted to do something ambitiously and he has been double minded , whether do it or leave it. In last his encourage succeeded.

aqsa riaz said...

yes....it can be related to the gud and bad angel in dr.faustus.... acctually in this poem there is a dialogue between two imaginary persons personified as reader and rider.

aqsa riaz said...

yes....it can be related to the gud and bad angel in dr.faustus.... acctually in this poem there is a dialogue between two imaginary persons personified as reader and rider.

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