In his poem ‘O what is that sound’ Auden explores the narrative of fear using language devices. The poem is in the form of a ballad where two people have a dialogue and are speaking about the current situation in which they are in. The first speaker shows aspects of fear as they’re constantly questioning what is happening, in contrast, the second speaker is restful and answers the questions swiftly as there are no pauses and coolly indicating he is not as weary as the first speaker, maybe because he knows more about the situation of the soldiers heading their way than he is letting on.
Firstly, Auden reveals that the first speaker is fearful, when they show signs of panic, which can be noted from the ongoing repetition of questioning ‘why’, on the other hand, the second speaker who is calm and uses an almost patronising tone which is displayed with ‘dear’ from the second speaker who states “I promised to love you, dear” this seems almost sarcastic as the comma before ‘dear’ indicates sarcasm, like they don’t really mean it in a loving way as the second speaker says it at the end when about to leave.
In addition, the second speaker, by the end of the poem it is clear that they do leave but they also could’ve betrayed the alarmed first speaker as the advancement of the “scarlet soldiers” frighten the speaker away propping him to leave what seems to be a lover.
In Auden’s ballad, the dialogue of the- two supposed lovers are having a conversation, the first speaker seems more likely to be a woman as she is asking a lot of questions and seems more fearful of what is going to happen, whereas the second speaker appears to be a man as he seems to have more authority of what is going on reassuring the woman of what is happening, however, the man could be involved with the soldiers arrival- which could lead to the rape of his wife as they had made ‘vows’ so the two speakers may have been married, or even the soldiers arrival could’ve been a result of something the man has done but Auden does not show fear as much for the second speaker as if he was guilty of doing something, it would make sense that he would’ve left his house earlier when he first saw the soldiers, until waiting until the very end to depart from his beloved.
Therefore, it indicates he may have given the first speaker up in some way and flees, displaying that the second speaker is deceiving. Furthermore, Auden extends the fear of the first speaker as the ‘scarlet soldiers’ the colour scarlet is a shade of red which is connotations of revenge, blood, evil or even a sign of danger foreshadowing that what could happen is not going to be good, making the first speaker nervous, however the second speaker is always trying to reassure them.
Moreover, a threatening presence of the soldiers is displayed which could worry the first speaker as the soldiers have ‘weapons’ which conveys a threat or danger, additionally could show they are superior and intend to use violence. The second speaker announces “none of them wounded, dear” illustrating that these are not soldiers who are currently in a war, but ‘none of these forces’ suggests they could be a special force, superior and more powerful than other soldiers, which adds to the effect of fear of the first speaker and of their threatening presence. On the other hand, the poem becomes a way Auden can explore his fear and anger in 1934 in which the poem was written of how totalitarianism ascended without obstruction.
He displays this with the abandonment of the first speaker, who assumes the role of a person whose gender is not known, gradually becomes of a threat, which could suggest the growing dictatorships and Fascism in Europe. Moreover, the use of paranoia and fear is brought into the poem by Auden’s use of repetition of the line ‘O’ gives the Ballard a dramatic feeling, suggesting paranoia from the speaker. Also, the paranoid speaker actions of ‘kneeling’ indicates that the speaker is frightened of what might happen, but could also link to the idea of being oppresses in a society with a tyrannical regime. Auden refuses to give the speaker names, gender or any specific characterisations other than a glimpse of a dialogue between two people and what is their current situation.
By not specifically specifying any detail of setting, character or time, the poem could be based on anyone, anything or any time in history. Overall, Auden allows the poem to have so many possible meanings, most of which contains fear, due to the absence of detail. There is no beginning or end, we do not know what is going to play out for these two characters next, or why and how they got into the situation they are currently in as we are only looking at a moment in time without knowing the before and after, but we are left with the middle. Essentially narrative of fear is created through the speaker’s actions and questioning and by Auden’s use of linguistic devices.