Mundus et Infans – W.H. Auden : A Notes On the Poem

Mundus et Infans – W.H. Auden : A Notes On the Poem

‘Mundus et Infans’ (1942), an occasional poem celebrating the birth of a son to friends, treats the issue in even more playful terms.

Within the poem’s jocular benevolence, praising the baby’s vitality while also calling it a ‘cocky little ogre’, is a similar understanding of life as networked. The role of the mother for the baby is described in terms that also apply to the human relationship with the earth: she supplies and delivers ‘his raw materials free’.

The poem sides with the human when it calls the baby a ‘pantheist’, compares him with the saints and eventually invokes judgements (applicable to humans and deities), only to conclude that what the baby can teach us is the need to distinguish between hunger and love – impulses which connect us to the natural world and those which supposedly distinguish us from it. Human existence straddles a space that is as much divide as bridge.    

This poem explores the delights and natural selfishness of infancy, as well as the differences between such a hunger and true love. Auden touches on the child who kicks the mother in the womb, demands his milk for free, sleeps, and operates in a world where no distinctions are yet made between oneself and others. The advantage of this state is that an infant is completely honest (like the saints) and exists without shame. The infant’s very being (cries and bowel movements) praises God, the Creator. His demands remind us again and again that love is self-sacrificial, unlike infant hunger. 

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