Look, Stranger is somewhat an exceptional poem by W.H. Auden. He is acclaimed generally neither as a nature poet nor as a patriotic one. But the present poem reveals his precise yet graphic and singular picture of natural scenery and his warm attachment to the scenic beauty of the English sea-shore.
Auden, in his poem Look, Stranger, gives a vivid description of the natural scene around the chalk-cliffs of Dover. The lofty cliffs stand like the mighty wall and slope down to the sea. The surging waves advance, dash against the cliffs, and recede. One may hear the swaying sound of the waves as one stands on the edge of a small field near the cliffs. The sound of the pebbles on the sea-shores rolling backward and forward, being carried by the waves, can also be heard. The sea-gulls, which fly over the sea, may take their momentary rest on the top of the cliffs. The clouds, that move across the sky, are reflected on the clear surface of the still water of the harbour and the summer sea. At a distance, near the horizon, speck-like ships can be seen. All such sights are definitely precise but wonderfully living. They serve to bear out Auden’s precise representation of the natural beauty and his love for the natural loveliness of his own country, England.
The description of different views, as implied, is not given in details. But they are all presented with the utmost economy of words. The poet does his function as a master painter and draws a graphic scene with a few strokes of his brush. Auden’s imagery, in fact, is both direct and simple. It can rarely be found in any other modern poem. While giving a description of the landscape round the chalk-cliffs of Dover, Auden surpasses his predecessors because of his strong sentimental feeling for England. Standing on the edge of a small field, the poet takes a panoramic view of the cliffs, the waves, and the ships sailing at a distance. This is a fine study in perspective. The steep rock, facing the surging sea, and the distant horizon, where move the small seed-like ships, are visible at a glance.
In style and workmanship, the poem is admirable. Auden writes with his eye on the object, and his style is concrete and objective. He has a remarkable gift of presenting a vivid picture, seen at once physically and psychologically. The poem has a compactness of its own. The concentrated epithets, like ‘leaping light’, ‘swaying sound’, ‘sucking surf’ and ‘harbour mirror’ are highly suggestive and have a remarkable vividness. They show the poet’s power of packing more matter clearly into a small space. The poem is rhythmical and has a lyrical quality. The varying length of the lines echo the ‘swaying sound of the sea’.