The pressure of their fond ambition made
Their Shy and country-loving cild afraid
No sensible career was good enough,
Only a hero could deserve such love.
Here we see a glimpse of what is perhaps shared by the majority of people: that you are average, not a hero, and will not succeed as the hero is able to. I find it interesting that this poem is about the hero and that we are hearing the heroes inner voice at this time (in a manner of speaking). The hero, Auden seems to be saying, does not often recognize his own heroism, even while he is doing great acts.
In the last stanza of the poem Auden leaves us with the actions of the hero, allowing us to understand that despite his actions he does not recognize that he is not average but something more.
The silence roared displeasure: looking down,We questions, in reading this whether or not the hero understood that he was a hero. What makes a
He saw the shadow of an Average Man
Attempting the Exceptional, and ran.
man average or a hero, or are all men average only performing great acts. These are common questions with many answers. Auden further shows the "averageness" of this man later in his poem, under the section titled, "The Hero" where he writes of the towns people who disbelieve the heroes stories upon his return
For he was always glad to mow the grass,Auden is showing us the plainness of a man who has done great things. Not only can we understand the complexity of what makes up a person, but we are able to put ourselves in the place of the hero in significant ways. The comparison to a man who acted greatly, but still mows his lawn with pride is an important one when we place ourselves within the poem. It is, therefore, the "average" man that is capable of doing great things.
Pour liquids from large bottles into small,
Or look at clouds through bits of coloured glass.
The Hebrew word for "man" or "mankind" is Enos. When we read of Enos in the Book of Mormon we are introduced "literally" to a man. There is little detail given of his life and who he was, specifically during the time of his writing the self-named record. Enos, according to his account went out to hunt beasts in the forest when he had a strong desire to know of the things which his father taught. This desire, and the resulting events, came not to a man who was highly esteemed of the Lord as his father, Jacob was, but to someone who went hunting. In his hunting he find himself "struggling in the spirit" (En. 1:10) and praying not only for his people, the Nephites, but his brethren, the Lamanites (a relation perhaps can be made again to his names meaning "mankind" in his prayer). Through these events we see the actions of a simple man made great--almost unbelievable.
Like W. H. Auden's poem, we can place ourselves in Enos's place to understand the events that have taken place within our own lives. What makes a person great, or a hero? Does simple tasks like mowing, or hunting keep us from this potential? Rather than seeing this in a perspective of "potential" and "action" I'd prefer to view our actions as ordinary, but necessary. The only difference between the truly average person and the hero is little. Perhaps it is being in the right place at the right time, or perhaps it is something greater. Perhaps the difference is a willingness to see ones simplicity, accept it, and still act in the best possible way. Rather than seeing the "average" person as an unassuming hero, or someone who simply doesn't recognize their greatness, we should see them, or us, as "the average;" the only difference is that we've accepted our "man-ness" or "Enos-ness" regardless of the heroic actions, or the Quest we have undertaken.
It is in this way that we relate to Enos, to the hero, to our fellow men in real ways.