Nocturne (1951)

The poem Nocturne can be cut into two pieces, the first part encompasses the first five stanzas, the second part contains the last five stanzas. In the first part many of the elements found in The Virgin & the Dynamo can be identified (as a matter of fact Auden even uses the same terms in Nocturne). Here Auden very clearly distinguishes between what he calls the natural world and the historical world. He starts with the historical world (obviously hinted at with terms like ‘my heart’, ‘Virgin’ or ‘Muse’) in which he sees the moon as a myth. But then comes the natural world, brought up by his mind, telling that the moon is not more than a rock with craters. While both worlds are ‘worshippers of force’ it is the natural world of the dynamo that wins since the author realizes (or knows) that the Virgin is little more than a mask.

In the second part of the poem Auden moves on to speak about human beings, but in a rather numerical way (talking about x). But in speaking about humans Auden opts for a world that is in between the two world of the virgin and the dynamo (‘not a myth or a machine’), Fuller calls this the real world (Fuller, 1998).

Whereas the first part is rather easy to understand, with the background knowledge from the previous readings, the second part brings up many more questions. For example what does Auden exactly mean when he uses the x? It seems that he is trying to show how humans, or a face, have a place in both the natural and the historical world, but by using this numerical and impersonal style he seems to move more towards the world of the dynamo.

Then, in the last two stanzas Auden makes a separation again between the two worlds, in the ninth stanza the face is represented as a sort of myth. But in the final stanza there is also the ‘counter-image’ of the mechanical world that seems to be part of the human being.

Fuller, J. (1998). W.H. Auden: A Commentary. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.


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