Tag Archives: W.H. Auden

“Law, say the gardeners, is the sun.”

“Law, Like Love,” by W. H. Auden

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

 

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Photo credit: By Kashparovski, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53195268

“Solitude /Became his flattered duchess in the dark.”

“The First Temptation,” by W. H. Auden (Part VI. of “The Quest”)

Ashamed to be the darling of his grief,
He joined a gang of rowdy stories where
His gift for magic quickly made him chief
Of all these boyish powers of the air;

Who turned his hungers into Roman food,
The town’s asymmetry into a park;
All hours took taxis; any solitude
Became his flattered duchess in the dark.

But, if he wished for anything less grand,
The nights came padding after him like wild
Beasts that meant harm, and all the doors cried Thief;

And when Truth had met him and put out her hand,
He clung in panic to his tall belief
And shrank away like an ill-treated child.

 

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“Master and Boatswain” by W. H. Auden (read by Eric Robert Nolan)

April is National Poetry Month.

“Master and Boatswain” by W. H. Auden

At Dirty Dick’s and Sloppy Joe’s
We drank our liquor straight,
Some went upstairs with Margery,
And some, alas, with Kate;
And two by two like cat and mouse,
The homeless played at keeping house.

There Wealthy Meg, the Sailor’s Friend,
And Marion, cow-eyed,
Opened their arms to me, but I
Refused to step inside;
I was not looking for a cage
In which to mope in my old age.

T’he nightingale are sobbing in
The orchards of our mothers,
And hearts that we broke long ago
Have long been breaking others;
Tears are round, the sea is deep:
Roll them overboard and sleep.

 

“The Preparations,” by W. H. Auden

The Preparations” (Part II. of “The Quest”)

All had been ordered weeks before the start
From the best firms at such work: instruments
To take the measure of all queer events,
And drugs to move the bowels or the heart.

A watch, of course, to watch impatience fly,
Lamps for the dark and shades against the sun;
Foreboding, too, insisted on a gun,
And coloured beads to soothe a savage eye.

In theory they were sound on Expectation,
Had there been situations to be in;
Unluckily they were their situation:

One should not give a poisoner medicine,
A conjurer fine apparatus, nor
A rifle to a melancholic bore.

 

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“Funeral Blues,” by W. H. Auden

April is National Poetry Month.  If you are staying at home (which you absolutely should be), it seems like a perfect time to reacquaint yourself with some old favorites or find some new ones.

You guys know that I run plenty of Auden on this blog — but I don’t remember having ever run this one.

*****

 

“Funeral Blues,” by W. H. Auden

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

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Photo credit: Wellcome Library, London

“GONZALO,” BY W. H. AUDEN (RECITED BY ERIC ROBERT NOLAN)

“Gonzalo”

— 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.”

 

“When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter.”

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

— W. H. Auden’s “Epitaph on a Tyrant”

 

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“Law is the senses of the young.”

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

— excerpt from W. H. Auden’s “Law Like Love”

 

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Photo credit: Alberto Nishiyama [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D