1. Research the cause and outcome of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939)? Why was it that so many noted personalities took and stand and even participated in the war?
2. How did W. H. Auden’s involve himself in the Spanish Civil War?
3. In the poem that follows, “O What Is That Sound,” how might the poem be thought of as a universal poem of war? What are the images that the poem evokes?
4. How does the sing-song metre, often associated with nursery rhymes, contradict the content of the message? In your estimate, does the style in which this poem is written work? Comment on how it does or doesn’t work.
5. What is the significance of the word “sound” in the title of the poem?
6. If you have previously read the poems of Wilfred Owen, how does this poem by Auden remind you of Owen’s work?
“O What Is That Sound”
O what is that sound which so thrills the ear
Down in the valley drumming, drumming?
Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,
The soldiers coming.
O what is that light I see flashing so clear
Over the distance brightly, brightly?
Only the sun on their weapons, dear,
As they step lightly.
O what are they doing with all that gear,
What are they doing this morning, this morning?
Only their usual manoeuvres, dear.
Or perhaps a warning.
O why have they left the road down there,
Why are they suddenly wheeling, wheeling?
Perhaps a change in their orders, dear.
Why are you kneeling?
O haven't they stopped for the doctor's care,
Haven't they reined their horses, their horses?
Why, they are none of them wounded, dear.
None of these forces.
O is it the parson they want, with white hair,
Is it the parson, is it, is it?
No, they are passing his gateway, dear,
Without a visit.
O it must be the farmer who lives so near.
It must be the farmer so cunning, so cunning?
They have passed the farmyard already, dear,
And now they are running.
O where are you going? Stay with me here!
Were the vows you swore deceiving, deceiving?
No, I promised to love you, dear,
But I must be leaving.
O it's broken the lock and splintered the door,
O it's the gate where they're turning, turning;
Their boots are heavy on the floor
And their eyes are burning.