Thursday, September 07, 2006

W. H. Auden's "The Average"

Auden was a twentieth-century poet who, unlike many of his predecessors, embraced the change around him. Embracing change is something many of us find difficult to do. Sometimes it takes a day or two to start to feel comfortable with even slight changes. Imagine how difficult it must have been to pull up roots in the United Kingdom and move to the United States when you've lived in the U.K. for nearly 40 years. Yet Auden's attitude seemed to be one of simply taking life as it came at him, whether extraordinary or exceptionally ordinary. I think that's one of the reasons I like his poem titled, The Average.

I've copied it below for you to read. [Don't worry; it's short. Another reason I like it. :-) ] But before you read it, consider this. Like so many poets of his time, Auden saw everyday things in life, many which we take for granted, and pointed out to us their importance by writing little poems about them. This one seems to be about a youth who, by his parent's nearly working themselves to death on his behalf, is spared the hardships of life that his parents had to suffer, and as a result, ended up being a rather average person instead of the hero his parents hoped for.

Here is W. H. Auden's, The Average.

His peasant parents killed themselves with toil
To let their darling leave a stingy soil
For any of those smart professions which
Encourage shallow breathing, and grow rich.

The pressure of their fond ambition made
Their shy and country-loving child afraid
No sensible career was good enough,
Only a hero could deserve such love.

So here he was without maps or supplies,
A hundred miles from any decent town;
The desert glared into his blood-shot eyes;

The silence roared displeasure: looking down,
He saw the shadow of an Average Man
Attempting the Exceptionl, and ran.


Blogger Doug Williams said...

This poem has haunted me all my life. I think I first encountered it in Gr 7 or 8, and it threatened to foretell my own fate. Was it in fact the cause of my ordinariness? Was I made too wise, too young?

2:17 PM  
Blogger Tannin Rehm said...

It's really informative. Thanks.

8:32 AM  

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