The fourth decade of the present century was a period of great social and political turbulence. One was over and the possibilities of another loomed largely. The English poetry of the time especially in the hands of Auden, Spender, C.Day Lewis, and Louis MaeNeice-faithfully depicted this social and political tumult. Not only that, but these poets of the thirties’ were also active politicians, some of whom strongly supported the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. It in technicalities, they followed Eliot, Owen, or Hopkins, the 30s- poets sought inspiration from Freud and Marx, whose theories often form their thematic focal point. For these poets, poetry is a means to bring about a social revolt. They believed, solution to the problems of the world should ever be sought only in Freudian psychological theories or Marxist political theories.
The faith in the violent proletarian revolution as means of the betterment of the conditions of the underdogs has been expressed in the poetry of Auden, Spender, or Lewis. The early Auden was much like Eliot in exposing the hollowness of the disintegrating post-war civilization. However, he also prescribes Marxism or communism as remedies to the world’s problems, which Eliot has never done. His “The Orators“, “Look, Stranger“, “New Year Letter” reflected thin early belief in left-wing political ideologies. He then advocated the change of heart on the part of the bourgeois for the upliftment of the proletariat.
Auden is a poet of the masses with enormous sympathy for them. Man is society is his only concern. “The Unknown Citizen” is a satire not on the citizen but on the way in which the average man in the street is controlled by the conventions of bureaucracy and welfare State which ignore the need for a man to be free and happy. “Musee Des Beaux Arts” satirizes another social evil the general indifference of humanity to an individual suffering. Auden’s later poems, as seen in “The Age of Anxiety“, revealed a new note of mysticism in his approach to human problems. In “1939″, he saw off Communism like Lewis. Auden throughout his poetic career, as Spender says, is
“The didactic, highly intellectualized, technically dazzling, at times wise poetry of an aloof commentator”.
Stephen Spender was a critic, journalist, and poet in the Auden school by virtue of the distinctive socio-political consciousness in his early poetry. In the early collections like “Poems“, “Vienna“. “The still center“, “Ruins and visions” or”Collected Poems“, Spender emerges purely as a politically leftist poet, much concerned about the underdog, like Auden and Day Lewis. Those poems reflect his deep awareness of the sufferings and unhappiness of the inter-word period. He dreamt of a better future having full faith in the theories of Marx. But Spender was always a strong individualist and eventually turned away from outward events to search for “a universal experience through subjective contemplation”. With great subjectivity. his later poems become much lyrical and introspective. In his early poetry, Spender wrote about war, modern technological age and its machinery, he dealt with the emotions of a lover in his later poetry having more appeal to feelings than to the intellect.
Like Auden and Spender, day Lewis is a Marxist poet. His heart aches to find the world prostrated with exploitation, hunger, and death. He hopes, only the left-wing ideals can cure this diseased world. In “The Magnetic Mountain” he denounces the existing social order and advocates a violent revolution to abolish it. In matters of technique, he owes much to Eliot and Hopkins. But Lewis’s poetry is ever free from Eliot’s despair as voiced in “The Waste Land“. His early “Transition Poem” is somewhat metaphysical, closely packed, and concise in idea and imagery. Gradually the mood or revolution sobered into the lyrical. “Word over All” and “Poems” are his famous collections of personal lyrics.
Though a member of the Auden group, having a strong political consciousness, MacNeice never embraced wholeheartedly any political creed. He was no Marxist as Edith Sitwell wasn’t. They never sought a solution to the world’s problems in the leftist ideology. In his primer “Modern Poetry” MacNeice pleaded for “impure poetry, part criticism, part entertainment” dealing with the problems of man in society. His poetry is mainly didactic or lyrical. Like him, Sitwell also realized, ideals can’t be fully realized. She sought to escape into the world of childhood and art. The horrors of the war and human evil aroused in her a sense of despair and compassion. She then simply expressed it though her lyrics like “Still Falls the Rain” rather than advocating