In Memory of W.B. Yeats
by W.H. Auden
Frozenness and Immobility
If water's all about motion, then people are all about anti-motion. In this poem, at least, people are stiff and lonely and locked in their own worlds and delusions. Even Yeats is no exception to the rule. There doesn't seem to be any immediate way out of this fix, especially in 1939, when everybody with two brain cells to rub together knows that war is on the horizon (World War II, in fact). Ever feel helpless in the face of seemingly unchangeable world events? That's what the speaker feels...and he's pretty sure that others feel the same way.
- Lines 2-5: Normal, everyday coldness and freezing here – nothing too special. But don't worry – we're just setting the stage for all the permutations of figurative coldness and freezing that'll come later.
- Line 27: There's a pretty devastating metaphor at work in this line: people, it seems, make their own prisons. Yup, that means you. And hey, you probably thought you were one of the free ones, right? It's OK, we're probably imprisoned, too.
- Lines 42-45: OK, we're cheating a bit here. The opening of section III isn't really about freezing. It is, however, about relinquishing the human body, which remains locked in its temporality. There are metaphors all over this poem, and this is one of them. William Yeats = Irish vessel. Of poetry, that is. We should take this time to point out that this stanza also inaugurates a new rhyme scheme (AABB) that will continue for the rest of the poem.
- Lines 52-53: See? We told you frozenness was a key word here.
- Lines 62-64: OK, so deserts aren't really frozen, but they are dry and barren, sort of like a frozen terrain. It's a slight permutation on the imagery that Auden's been developing thus far, but it still casts us right back into a world of emptiness and despair. Hey, no one promised you sunshine in this poem. Oh, and there's also a reprise of the prison metaphor from line 27.