If I Could Tell You

Revision notes for Auden's "If I Could Tell You"

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Ao2: Narrative Technique
Ao3: Ideas behind poetry
Ao4: Context:
If I Could Tell You
Summary- The poem warns that time is indifferent to our hopes and dreams. It offers
images of failure, abandonment and isolation and questions whether there is any
meaning to life. It presents the speaker as a compassionate, caring lover.
Villanelle. Originally modelled on a French form, it became popular in English
verse at the end of the nineteenth century.
A villanelle should be nineteen lines long. It has five stanzas of three lines and
one of four.
Lines one and three of the first stanza appear at the end of the other stanzas,
Line two in each stanza rhymes with line two in each other stanza.
The last verse finished with a rhyming couplet.
Poem deals with time and relationships.
Depicts a kind of wisdom, or is a know-all, I-told-you-so sort of attitude that is
being satirised?
Deals with hopes, ambitions and a sense of failure.
Fuller (1998) suggests that it was a poem designed to charm Chester Kallman,
with whom Auden had recently fallen in love.
It is repetitious.
Carefully constructed around three key sentences, which recur throughout the
It uses symbols ­lions, for example- in a somewhat cryptic fashion.
Links to other poems:
Like "O Where Are You Going?" it offers cryptic suggestions of wisdom.
There is a mystery about who is peaking to whom.

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Like "O What is That Sound" it seems to be a conversation in process, but here
there are no replies to the comments made.
Like all the poems, it is tinged with pessimism.
Aspects of Narrative:
It cannot be said to tell a story in any conventional sense.
It is more like a skeleton or template for all stories.
It shows us the kind of end points that stories generally reach.
It suggests the sort of message that stories tell us.…read more

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Lack of certainty, honest
Positivity, love intrinsically worthwhile
Ao4: Context:
Stanza 6:
Suggestion to Kallman that brief affairs with soldiers are pointless?…read more


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