Partition By W. H. Auden

Partition By W H Auden Analysis | Partition Poem Analysis

Partition By W. H. Auden
Partition By W. H. Auden


          The poem Partition by W. H. Auden deals with the historical event of the partition of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan. Cyril Radcliffe parted the subcontinent on the idea of outdated maps and incorrect census inside a brief interval of seven weeks. It is a political and historical poem. The poem was first published in Auden’s 1969 collection City Without walls.

About Poet

            W. H. Auden was an English poet, playwright, critic, and liberalist of the 20th century. He exerted a major influence on poetry. As a poet, Auden was much influenced by the poetry of Thomas Hardy, William Blake, and G. M. Hopkins. Most of Auden’s poems are based on love, politics, social concern, religion, and personal morals.

The Poet published over 20 collections of poetry during his lifetime and became best known for his writing style and technique in writing. Among his world-famous poems included – The Unknown Citizen, September 1: 1989, Autumn Song, Night Mail, If I Could tell You, and The Shield of Achilles. Awards and honors which Auden got as achievements in his life are – Bollinger Prize, National Book Award, and Pulitzer Prize.

Auden Criticise in the Poem

            The poem Partition is a criticism of the method of Partition and a criticism of Cyril Radcliffe. Partition was a job that was heroic and of an epic dimension but it was done away in such haste, such a short time, with such carelessness that resulted in the catastrophe, the tragedy that is called partition. This act of partition was done in such a way as to split a piece of log. Around 12 million people displace and millions were left homeless. The trains through which migration was done were so full and there was hardly space to breathe in it. Over one million were killed on both sides of the border.

            Cyril Radcliffe arrived in India on July 8, 1947. He has never seen the subcontinent before, never knew the geography, never knew the population of statistics and still, he was given the task of splitting the subcontinent into two parts – India and Pakistan. This was an epic dimension task but it was done in such haste, and carelessness that it resulted in a monumental tragedy.

Themes of The Partition

            The violence and Hubris of British colonialism, Partition are the main themes of the poem. Cyril Radcliffe’s decision resulted in mass migration and widespread violence as countless Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs were forced to seek safety in religious majorities on the other side of new boundaries. With this context, the poem highlights the devastating effects of British Colonialism.

Analysis Of The Poem

            The poem starts with the line that Radcliffe was unbiased when he arrived in India. Radcliffe was unaware of India’s cultural traditions and the communal tension prevalent in India. Radcliff is a person who had never come to India and now he is called for partition. He was a complete stranger. Auden says that partition was among people, who were fanatically different, they had a different diet and different God.

Radcliff was told in London that we have no time left for mutual reconciliation and rational debate and that this line will be not drawn. The decision had already been taken now. You are being called to fulfill the formalities. Two sides can’t come together. The solution lies in their separation only. It means that in Radcliffe’s mind, it was already settled that there is no chance left of stopping this partition.

            Auden mentions that letter which was written by Lord Mountbatten to Radcliffe, in the letter evidence can be seen that Mountbatten doesn’t want to see Radcliff. Even he had given authority to Radcliff to divide and draw the line himself. For the help, they provided accommodation to Sir Radcliffe and two Hindu judges, and two Muslim judges to seek advice were given to him. The final decision rested with Radcliffe.

            Next Auden says that Sir Radcliffe was living in a lonely mansion under police protection. Because the police were scared that orthodox people of any side can attack him or assassinate him. He got down to work and the task was of setting the destiny of millions of people living on both sides just by tracing a single line of land. People had to leave their sources of income school houses except they were out of their land and their state was in the hands of the Radcliffe line.

            Auden criticizes the way partition was done because the maps given to Sir Radcliffe were out of date and even the census was also incorrect due to this he faced many difficulties. But Auden mentions that there was no time to verify and examine maps for the census.

            Radcliffe was setting the faith of millions of people with incorrect defaulted papers.

            In the month of June and July, India’s weather is very hot so Auden talks about the climate of the Indian subcontinent. Due to the hot climate, a bout of dysentery kept him constantly in the toilet. As Redcliffe came from England it was difficult for him to adjust to India’s climate. But he has given a certain time of 5 to 7 weeks in which the frontiers were to be decided and India was to be divided for good or something bad to come. It means that Radcliffe was facing some health issues and in spite of that, he was told to finish that work. 

            In the last stanza Auden depicts that Radcliffe goes back to England and life any other lawyer he forgets the case. He quickly forgets what he has done in India and he moves on in his life. He said in a club and told his friends that he will never visit India because he is afraid that he might be shoot by anyone.


            Thus, Auden used very simple and direct language in the poem- “Partition” which is all about how unjust the partition of India was an unknown person was called an unknown land to draw a line that will decide the fate of millions of people and outdated information and pressure unrooted many people from their housed and decide their faith and death.

Varsha Singh

Partition Poem By W. H. Auden

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on the 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 the 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 could quickly forget
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.

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