When poetry comments on political reality!

I recently found this poem by the famous British poet W H Auden doing the rounds of social networking sites. It is startling how the British poets have not minced words to criticise war, violence, brutality, torture, pain perpetuated by their home country. Anyone remembers the painful poem by Rupert Brooke ‘The Soldier’?

Though the Auden poem below is a scathing critique of Radcliffe and his way of functioning, poets have always held the mirror to the political situations in their country, and though brilliant words, rhymes and images expressed their anguish. But violence continues undisturbed…

x3089 W.H. Auden by Howard Coster half-plate film negative, 1937 NPG x3089 © National Portrait Gallery, London
x3089
W.H. Auden
by Howard Coster
half-plate film negative, 1937
NPG x3089
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Partition

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on this land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
‘Time,’ they had briefed him in London, ‘is short. It’s too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we’ve arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.’

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he quickly forgot
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.

Partition, 1966 by WH Auden

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