“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

 

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“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

 

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

“For those who dread to drown, of thirst may die.”

“The Tower,” by W. H. Auden

(Part IX of “The Quest”)

This is an architecture for the old;
Thus heaven was attacked by the afraid,
So once, unconsciously, a virgin made
Her maidenhead conspicuous to a god.

Here on dark nights while worlds of triumph sleep
Lost Love in abstract speculation burns,
And exiled Will to politics returns
In epic verse that makes its traitors weep.

Yet many come to wish their tower a well;
For those who dread to drown, of thirst may die,
Those who see all become invisible:

Here great magicians, caught in their own spell,
Long for a natural climate as they sigh
“Beware of Magic” to the passer-by.

 

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“The More Loving One,” by W. H. Auden

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

 

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“Starless are the nights of travel,/ Bleak the winter wind …”

“Lady, Weeping at the Crossroads,” by W H. Auden

Lady, weeping at the crossroads,
Would you meet your love
In the twilight with his greyhounds,
And the hawk on his glove?

Bribe the birds then on the branches,
Bribe them to be dumb,
Stare the hot sun out of heaven
That the night may come.

Starless are the nights of travel,
Bleak the winter wind;
Run with terror all before you
And regret behind.

Run until you hear the ocean’s
Everlasting cry;
Deep though it may be and bitter
You must drink it dry,

Wear out patience in the lowest
Dungeons of the sea,
Searching through the stranded shipwrecks
For the golden key,

Push on to the world’s end, pay the
Dread guard with a kiss,
Cross the rotten bridge that totters
Over the abyss.

There stands the deserted castle
Ready to explore;
Enter, climb the marble staircase,
Open the locked door.

Cross the silent ballroom,
Doubt and danger past;
Blow the cobwebs from the mirror
See yourself at last.

Put your hand behind the wainscot,
You have done your part;
Find the penknife there and plunge it
Into your false heart.

 

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