O Where Are You Going

Revision notes for Auden's "O Where Are You Going"

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Ao2: Narrative Technique
Ao3: Ideas behind poetry
Ao4: Context:
O where Are You Going:
Summary: A series of cryptically labelled characters engage in questions and answers
that suggest that something bad is about to happen. The last stanza suggests that
those who were first questioned turn the tables on the questioners and leave them to
face various terrible fates.
A ballad. The ballad form was used for stories that could often be set to music.
Folk songs and poems often employed the form.
It usually features verses of four lines with lines two and four rhyming.
It would be in iambic metre (unstressed/stressed) with four stresses in lines
one and three, and three stresses in lines two and four.
This poem, in particular, is similar to the fold ballad "The Cutty Wren", which
begins "Oh where are you going said Milder to Moulder." The poem seems to
be about the killing of a wren, but it exaggerates the effort needed to kill such a
bird. It has been said to represent the end of the year, and the killing of the King
of the Year. It is also thought to have been sung during the Peasant's Revolt of
1381, with the wren representing King Richard II, who is killed so that his
people can feed from his corpse!
Deals with a sense of impending doom and a wish to escape.
It seems to offer wisdom, but in a cryptic and ultimately depressing form.
The poem offers symbolic names and metaphorical situations that seem to
reveal a sense of doom.
There are many cryptic references.
It uses speech, questions and answers.
It ends on a sense of abandonment.
Links to Other Poems:
It is like "O What is that Sound" in its use of questions and in its sense of
approaching threat.
It shares a pessimistic view of life with most of the other poems.

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It is structured in a repetitive, self-referential way, like "If I Could Tell You."
It shares some of the concerns with violence of "Ode."
Aspects of Narrative:
It has no clear narrative.
It suggests a range of possible stories, which are hinted at in fragments.
Ao2: Narrative Technique:
Stanza 1:
Internal assonance emphasises words within the half-rhyme
Stanza 2:
Syntax (word order) awkward syntax and awkward alliteration reflect the uncertainty of the
poem.…read more


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