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IN MEMORY OF ERNST TOLLER, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"In Memory of Ernst Toller" by W.H. Auden is a reflective poem written in memory of German playwright and revolutionary Ernst Toller, who died in 1939. The poem is a poignant tribute and offers a detailed examination of Toller's life and the legacy he left behind.

Context: Ernst Toller committed suicide in May 1939, following the distressing political developments in Europe, including the rise of Nazism. Auden's poem reflects on Toller's life, his struggles, and the broader political landscape of the time.

Theme Analysis:

The Legacy of a Man: Auden illustrates Toller's legacy as both "egotistical and brave," reflecting on his individualistic traits and the courage he demonstrated throughout his life.

Politics and Warfare: Through the metaphor of "war-horses," Auden alludes to the political battles that Toller fought, hinting at his commitment to the cause and the example he set for younger generations.

The Unpredictability of Life: Auden explores the theme of fate and the unseen powers that guide our lives, deaths, and everything in between.

Mourning and Loss: The poem also touches upon grief, mourning, and the personal connection between the poet and the subject.

Poetic Devices:

Rhyme Scheme: The poem's rhyme scheme is ABACCA?. This pattern provides a unique flow and rhythm to the poem, connecting lines and ideas in a way that reflects the intricate reflections on Toller's life and the broader themes the poem explores.

Imagery: The imagery of shadows, graves, and the woodshed creates a vivid portrayal of both Toller's life and the dark political climate of his time.

Metaphor: The metaphor of "war-horses" and the "big and friendly death outside" adds depth to the portrayal of Toller and the political struggle.

Allusion: References to places like Munich and allusions to Europe's political state tie the poem to real historical contexts.

Conclusion: "In Memory of Ernst Toller" is a heartfelt tribute that does more than merely commemorate an individual. By weaving Toller's personal story with the broader political context, Auden crafts a poem that reflects on courage, political struggle, and the mysterious forces guiding our lives. The poem's mixture of respect, admiration, and sober reflection on the realities of life and death creates a rich and thoughtful piece, shedding light not only on Toller but also on the human condition.


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