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O Where are You Going Poem Stanza Explanation

O Where are You Going Poem Explanation


O where are you going?” said reader to rider,

That valley is fatal when furnaces burn,

Yonder’s the midden whose odours will madden,

That gap is the grave where the tall return.





These verses have been taken from the W. H. Auden’s poem “O Where Are You Going?”




This poem is a dialogue between two imaginary persons, personified as Reader and Rider. The Reader, whose life is based on theoretical concepts and nothing practical, is a timid and terrified person. On the other hand, the Rider is a brave, courageous and practical man. Although his journey is replete with innumerable dangers, yet he is determined to accomplish it through thick and thin or whatever sufferings and sorrows come in his way. Through the dialogue between two opposite force i.e the Reader and Rider the poet has tried to preach the philosophy of life that man is not made for defeat and one must be determined and confident to achieve the goals of life without losing courage and hope. The Reader in this poem is the representative of all those cowards, who die ten times before death. The valley is the symbol of hardships and mysteries of life.





In these verses, the Reader, who is coward, full of awe and astonishment, discourages the Rider from continuing his tough task of travelling. He says that the valley where the Rider is going is replete with heaps of dung /waste material, whose nasty smell may sicken him or madden his mind. To strike further horror in the heart and mind of the Rider, the Rider adds that there is also a grave in the form of a gap for those, who try to cross it. At the very outset, the Reader tries to frighten and discourage the reader from accomplishing his journey.

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The reader is impractical, unrealistic and far more frightened, so he can‟t overcome obstacle of life as Shakespeare has remarked:

“Extreme fear can neither flight nor fly”

“O do you imagine,” said fearer to farer,

“That dusk will delay on your path to the pass,

Your diligent looking discover the lacking

Your footsteps feel from granite to grass?”




In the above mentioned verses, the Reader warns the Rider regarding the risks and tragedies, which may befall during his journey. He says that although the Rider is undertaking his journey during the day time, yet at dusk it will become dark and deadly, where his intelligence and vigilance will display his ignorance regarding mysteries of life. The Reader also warns him that the footsteps on granite are different from those on grass. In other words, he means to say that the path that the Rider has chosen is tortuous and twisted. The fearer tries to discourage the rider so that he may withdraw from his ambition to cross and conquer the valley replete with dangers, failures, sorrows and sufferings. It‟s true that bad time never plays trumpet, however, one must be ready to face it courageously. In spite of the Reader‟s predictions and discouragement, the Rider is not ready to give for him. To him, the will power matters not the path /journey, which is either tough or straightforward and a determined person never complains about such things, as it is well said by Tom Wilson:- You can complain because roses have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorns have roses. No doubt God created us, but He gave us the power of choice to shape our own lives and fortunes. It is depends upon a person, how he reacts during happy moments or in tough times.

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“O what was that bird,” said horror to hearer,

“Did you see that shape in the twisted trees?

Behind you swiftly the figure comes softly,

The spot on your skin is a shocking disease.”


Explanation: –


In the above mentioned verses, the Horror/Reader terrifies the Hearer /Rider regarding mysterious event or phenomenon, which may befall during his journey. Supernatural creatures, having terrible faces, may appear in his way. The trees, in that valley, are the dwelling place for such ghostly creatures, which may chase him to death. The Horror points out that the tiny spot on his face and body are the symptoms of deadly disease. From the very outset, the main objective of the Reader is to frighten the Rider, who is determined to cross the land of terror and dismay. The Rider believes in deeds not the baseless words, because deeds are fruits; words are but leaves. Shakespeare has rightly remarked about will power that our bodies are gardens to which our wills are gardeners.



“Out of this house,” said rider to reader,

“Yours never will,” said farer to fearer,

“They’re looking for you,” said hearer to horror,

As he left them there, as he left them there.

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The concluding stanza of the poem indicates that the Rider doesn‟t get frightened of the Readers pseudo warnings. He bears the iron will power to cross the valley. The traveller says to the reader that the brave and courageous people are not afraid of the hardships of life and always struggle till death. They trust in their capabilities and live on the principal of “Do or Die”. Regarding will power and self-reliance, Emerson has rightly quoted: Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string! Such people never wait for opportunities or the dangers to be over, because deciding today is less risky than waiting till all the risks are removed and when there is a will there is a way. The Rider further remarks that Reader‟s world is limited and can‟t come over the barrier of the shortcoming of his own character. Ironically, the doubts and fears that the Reader has been trying to create in the mind and heart of the Rider, are waiting for him; he will definitely become prey of his fears and doubts. Saying this, the Rider left the Reader and assumed his journey.

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