“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.”

 

“Children afraid of the night/ Who have never been happy or good.”

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play …

Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

— excerpts, W. H. Auden’s September 1, 1939

 

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“All that a speech can say/ About Democracy”

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

— excerpt, W.H. Auden’s September 1, 1939

 

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“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