This poem is all about free styling. No, wait. It's actually all about unrhymed hexameter. Or, um, maybe rhyming couplets?
OK, we're just messing with you. Our poet is just really ambitious. You've probably already noticed that the poem is divided into three different sections. The interesting thing is that each of these sections has utterly unique formal characteristics. We'll go into the nitty-gritty details in just a minute, but first we want to think a little bit about the big-picture implications of this move.
What's the deal with this display of formal prowess? After all, this short poem's got three different styles. Three! Well, we've got a few theories. (Hey, that's why you pay us the big bucks, right?) Here we go:
Idea 1: Auden wants to prove that he can do it all: traditional elegy, simple rhyming couplets, or the clarity of free form. And he does.
Idea 2: Auden is taking a little walk in Yeats's shoes. See, Yeats himself was a master of form. He played around with everything from traditional Irish limericks and lyrics, to epics, to, well, everything in between. If Auden wanted to create a little bit of Yeats's world in this poem, perhaps showcasing the variety within Yeats's own work would be the best way to do that.
Idea 3: Auden was serious about the difficulties he encountered when trying to sum up Yeats's life in one teeny tiny poem. Remember all that stuff about the "instruments we have"? Instead of just bewailing his inadequacy, however, Auden performs it: he offers us three different takes on the way that one poet can remember and celebrate another.
We're not sure which of these explains the multiple forms of this poem. Maybe it's a little of all three. Whatever the explanation, though, the combination of forms keeps this poem moving, constantly surprising and changing our vision of Yeats. Don't get too comfortable, folks. You never know what's going to come up next.
Oh...you wanted to know about the form of each section? All right, all right. Here it is:
I: Free form. No rhymes. No metrical pattern. It's free, free, free.
II: Unrhymed hexameter. Each line has twelve beats, but they don't rhyme.
III: Rhymed eight-beat couplets. There are eight beats (or syllables) per line. And each line rhymes with the one next to it.