* Site-Outage Notice: Our engineering elves will be tweaking the Shmoop site from Monday, December 22 10:00 PM PST to Tuesday, December 23 5:00 AM PST. The site will be unavailable during this time.
Dismiss
© 2014 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.
In Memory of W.B. Yeats

In Memory of W.B. Yeats

by W.H. Auden

Water

Symbol Analysis

Moving and flowing and churning things up, water is the quintessential symbolic image for motion and change. That's a good thing, folks. Change can be difficult, but it's natural, just like water. It's immobility that's actually strange and uncomfortable. Auden builds up a dense network of water metaphors to help him describe the way poetry can function in our sad, sorry lives.

  • Line 9: Check out the strange adjectives Auden attaches to water here: it's personified as a "peasant" river and a "fashionable" quay (wharf).
  • Line 17: The soul moves, see. It's always growing and changing and persisting – even when the body starts to collapse in on itself. The imagery in this line helps link Yeats's soul to his poetry, which is also described with water-like language.
  • Line 38: Here's where poetry gets the metaphoric motion that Auden wants art to have: it's imagined as a river snaking through landscapes of concrete and congestion. Ever notice how trickles of water seem to emerge from nowhere in the middle of a city sidewalk? That's the sort of persistence that our speaker is talking about.
  • Lines 52-53: Water isn't always a good thing: in these lines, the "seas of pity" "frozen" inside people become a potent image of failed compassion. There's something about us that makes it so darn difficult to actually care about other people – at least, that's what our speaker seems to think.
  • Lines 62-63: Not to worry, though: our speaker's got a solution. Remember that trickling water from section I? Now it's a full-blown fountain (not to mention a full-blown metaphor). Poetry is the water that allows our souls to ripen and grow.

People who Shmooped this also Shmooped...

Advertisement
Noodle's College Search
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement