Tag Archives: The Sea and the Mirror

Excerpt from W. H. Auden’s “Invocation to Ariel”

(a portion of “The Sea and the Mirror”)

Sing, Ariel, sing,
Sweetly, dangerously,
Out of the sour
And shiftless water,
Lucidly out
Of the dozing tree,
Entrancing, rebuking
The raging heart
With a smoother song
Than this rough world,
Unfeeling God.

O brilliantly, lightly,
Of separation,
Of bodies and death,
Unanxious one, sing …


“Woman by the Surf,” Anne Brigman

“Gonzalo,” by W. H. Auden (recited by Eric Robert Nolan)


— from W. H. Auden’s “The Sea and the Mirror”

Evening, grave, immense, and clear,
Overlooks our ship whose wake
Lingers undistorted on
Sea and silence; I look back
For the last time as the sun
Sets behind that island where
All our loves were altered: yes,
My prediction came to pass,
Yet I am not justified,
And I weep but not with pride.
Not in me the credit for
Words I uttered long ago
Whose glad meaning I betrayed;
Truths to-day admitted, owe
Nothing to the councilor
In whose booming eloquence
Honesty became untrue.
Am I not Gonzalo who
By his self-reflection made
Consolation an offence?

There was nothing to explain:
Had I trusted the Absurd
And straightforward note by note
Sung exactly what I heard,
Such immediate delight
Would have taken there and then
Our common welkin by surprise,
All would have begun to dance
Jigs of self-deliverance.
It was I prevented this,
Jealous of my native ear,
Mine the art which made the song
Sound ridiculous and wrong,
I whose interference broke
The gallop into jog-trot prose
And by speculation froze
Vision into an idea,
Irony into a joke,
Till I stood convicted of
Doubt and insufficient love.

Farewell, dear island of our wreck:
All have been restored to health,
All have seen the Commonwealth,
There is nothing to forgive.
Since a storm’s decision gave
His subjective passion back
To a meditative man,
Even reminiscence can
Comfort ambient troubles like
Some ruined tower by the sea
Whence boyhoods growing and afraid
Learn a formula they need
In solving their mortality,
Even rusting flesh can be
A simple locus now, a bell
The Already There can lay
Hands on if at any time
It should feel inclined to say
To the lonely – “Here I am,”
To the anxious – “All is well.”


“On clear days I can see/ Green acres far below …”

On clear days I can see
Green acres far below,
And the red roof where I
Was Little Trinculo.

There lies that solid world
These hands can never reach;
My history, my love,
Is but a choice of speech,

A terror shakes my tree,
A flock of words fly out,
Whereas a laughter shakes
The busy and devout.

Wild images, come down
Out of your freezing sky.
That I, like shorter men.
May get my joke and die.

— Trinculo, in W. H. Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror 


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“Give me my passage home …”

Give me my passage home, let me see that harbour once again, just as it was before I learned the bad words.  Patriarchs wiser than Abraham mended their nets on the modest wharf; white and wonderful things undressed on the sand dunes; sunset glittered on the plate-glass windows of the Marine Biological Station; far off on the extreme horizon, a whale spouted.  Look, Uncle, look.  They have broken my glasses and I have lost my silver whistle.  Pick me up, Uncle; let little Johnny ride away on your massive shoulders to recover his green kingdom, where the steam rollers are as friendly as the farm dogs …

— excerpt from W. H. Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror



“Lighthouse near Westkapelle,” Piet Mondrian, 1910

“One face cries nothing, Prospero …”

One face cries nothing, Prospero,

My conscience is my own;

          Pallid Sebastian does not know

          The dream in which Antonio

Fights the white bull alone.

— excerpt from W.H. Auden’s The Sea and the Mirror



By Adam Marian Pete – Adam Marian Pete, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38121754

W. H. Auden reads “Alonso to Ferdinand”

This is my favorite poem of all time — read by my favorite poet of all time.

Once again, this is an excerpt from Auden’s “The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” first published in 1944.


“Weep no more but pity me, Fleet persistent shadow cast …”

“Postscript” (From W. H. Auden’s “The Sea and the Mirror”)

(Ariel to Caliban, Echo by the Prompter)

Weep no more but pity me,
Fleet persistent shadow cast
By your lameness,
caught at last,
Helplessly in love with you,
Elegance, art, fascination,
Fascinated by
Drab mortality;
Spare me a humiliation,
To your faults be true:
I can sing as you reply

Wish for nothing lest you mar
The perfection in these eyes
Whose entire devotion lies
At the mercy of your will;
Tempt not your sworn comrade, – only
As I am can I love you as you are –
or my company be lonely
For my health be ill:
I will sing if you will cry

Never hope to say farewell,
For our lethargy is such
Heaven’s kindness cannot touch
Nor earth’s frankly brutal drum;
This was long ago decided,
Both of us know why,
Can, alas, foretell,
When our falsehoods are divided,
What we shall become,
One evaporating sigh



Giulio Aristide Sartorio’s “The Siren,” 1893