|Chapter 2:||The Quest Perilous|
And he asks,
what should we write to give them the nourishment,
warmth and shelter they'll be in need of?
For Auden, the question had an immediate answer, however partial:
is the least we can do, and its dominant
mood should be that of a Carnival.
Let us hymn the small but journal wonders
of Nature and of households, and then finish
on a serio-comic note with legends
regeneration beyond the waters.1
The poem is, in a way, a manifesto. It describes the large social and artistic problems of the age and both states and embodies Auden's solutions. While its complexity of concerns makes it a difficult poem to paraphrase, one of the things it establishes is the connection between the search for the Good (i.e., the Moral) Life (“a stern venture pre-figured in folk-tales / as the Quest Perilous”) and the poet's positive contribution to fellow and future wayfarers. Theme, diction, and verse-form are elaborately integrated. The manner of integration—through Auden's delicate counterpoising of sentiments and graceful adherence to pattern—is as important a part of the poem's meaning as its studied arrangement of personal attitudes.2
Auden reiterated the fundamental point of “Epistle to a Godson” in “The Garrison,” composed a month later:
now of what a plausible future might be
is what we're here for.3