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Theme of Canzone

Theme of Canzone

Dotnepal presents an analysis of W.H. Auden’s poem Canzone. Download a file from the given link.

Analysis of Canzone | Download

In the poem “Canzone” the poet begins by referring to the evil and wickedness rampant in the world. Ferocious dictators like Stalin and Mussolini are making a lot of noise. They have grown big like rhinoceros, and the cherished values of humanity are being denounced, violently and vehemently. The masses are absent-minded and unreceptive, they are carried away by the “orations” and “wooing poses” of than wicked, selfish rules, and are like ‘dumb-driver cattle’ in their hands. They cannot think for themselves and so become willing tools in the hands of the power-crazy dictators. Disaster looms on the horizon, and man’s salvation lives in his learning to love rightly. Eros must take recourse to Agape; there is no choice open to man. As the poet says:


When shall we learn, what should be clear as day,

We cannot choose what are free to love?

Although the mouse we banished yesterday

Is an enraged rhinoceros today,

Own value is more threatened than we know:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Whole phyla of resentments everyday

Gives status to the wild men of the world

Who rule the absent-mended of the world

Who rule the absent-mended and this world. (Selected Poems 49)


Man is born in this world to suffer; sorrow and suffering are basic to human condition. This suffering arises largely from his selfish materialistic desires. Either he lives and moves in a world of romantic nations which cannot be realized, or he is greedy for worldly wealth and power, which too cannot be achieved such romantic yearning whether for romantic love and happier or for unalterable materials and social status are the root causes of his suffering. Man is selfish; he loves himself alone. From this self-centeredness result his panic and despair, his spiritual deadness and his psychological fears. He should give up such dreadful appetites and transform Eros into Agape and regeneration will follow. Universal love is the only remedy for the human malaise.

In the third stanza of “Canzone” we find the maladies of modern sick world. As the poet says;

Drift, autumn, drift; fall, colours, where you will:

Bald melancholia minces through the world.

Regree, cold oceans, the lymphatic will

Caught in reflection on the right to will:

While violent dogs excite their dying day

To bacchic fury; anarl, though, as they will,

Their teeth are not a triumph for the will

But utter hesitation. What we love

Ourselves for is our power not to love,

To shrink to nothing or explode at will,

To ruin and remember that we know

What ruins and heavens cannot know . . .. (Selected Poems 50)


The poet points out in the above-mentioned stanza that autumn has over-taken the world. These of spiritual death and desolation abound. Melancholy and depression are widespread. People have grown lethargic and their wills are paralyzed. They are unable to act. The result is that power-hungry dictators have grown all-powerful and deliver freely speeches to incite them to their own distribution. But the dictators despite all their violence and destructive, funny, will never be able to get their heart’s desire. They will themselves be destroyed in the long run. Such destructive rage is blind and unproductive. Those who want to posses and dominate, those who are selfish and self-oriented cause destruction and are ultimately consumed in the fires they ignore. The poet warns us against such selfish love and exhorts us to forget our own selves, and love all without destination.


Worldly wealth, power and status, and not any spiritual and cultural values, are the object of human love in the modern sick world. Thus worldly wealth is dishonestly acquired; hence the poet refers to it as a stolen language. But all this worldly wealth cannot give man that security and tranquility which his soul craves.


At last mockingly and ironically using the technology of love, “Dear Fish, dear mind, deer spirit etc” the poet knows that love in the true sense of the term is present in his selfish, greedy desires, his wicked impulses and instincts cannot tolerate the presence of Agape or universal love. As he says in the poem;

Dear flesh, dear mind, dear spirit, O dear love,

In the depths of myself blind monsters know

Your presence and are angry, dreading love

That asks its image for more than love;

The hot rampageous horses of my will,

Catching the scant of heaven, whinny: love

Gives no excuse to evil done for love,

Neither in you, nor me, nor armies, nor the world (Selected Poems 52-53)

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