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     W. H. Auden by J. D. McClatchy

     The Wanderer
     O Where Are You Going?
     Our Hunting Fathers
     On This Island
     As I Walked Out One Evening
     Fish in the Unruffled Lakes
     Autumn Song
     Death's Echo
     Musée des Beaux Arts
     from In Time of War
     In Memory of W. B. Yeats
     Law Like Love
     Under Which Lyre
     A Walk After Dark
     The More Loving One
     The Shield of Achilles
     Friday's Child
     Thanksgiving for a Habitat
     The Common Life
     August 1968
     Moon Landing
     River Profile
     A New Year Greeting

     In certain poems the audio version differs from the published text.


        (from a preface by J. D. McClatchy)

     When he arrived at Oxford as an undergraduate, W. H. Auden went to  see
his  tutor in literature,  who asked the young  man  what he  meant to do in
later life. "I  am going to be a poet," Auden answered. "Ah,  yes,"  replied
the  tutor,  and  began a small  lecture on verse exercises  improving one's
prose. Auden scowled. "You don't understand at all," he interrupted. "I mean
a great poet."


     Doom is dark and deeper than any sea-dingle.
     Upon what man it fall
     In spring, day-wishing flowers appearing,
     Avalanche sliding, white snow from rock-face,
     That he should leave his house,
     No cloud-soft hand can hold him, restraint by women;
     But ever that man goes
     Through place-keepers, through forest trees,
     A stranger to strangers over undried sea,
     Houses for fishes, suffocating water,
     Or lonely on fell as chat,
     By pot-holed becks
     A bird stone-haunting, an unquiet bird.
     There head falls forward, fatigued at evening,
     And dreams of home,
     Waving from window, spread of welcome,
     Kissing of wife under single sheet;
     But waking sees
     Bird-flocks nameless to him, through doorway voices
     Of new men making another love.

     Save him from hostile capture,
     From sudden tiger's leap at corner;
     Protect his house,
     His anxious house where days are counted
     From thunderbolt protect,
     From gradual ruin spreading like a stain;
     Converting number from vague to certain,
     Bring joy, bring day of his returning,
     Lucky with day approaching, with leaning dawn.



     "O where are you going?" said reader to rider,
     "That valley is fatal where furnaces burn,
     Yonder's the midden whose odours will madden,
     That gap is the grave where the tall return."

     "O do you imagine," said fearer to farer,
     "That dusk will delay on your path to the pass,
     Your diligent looking discover the lacking,
     Your footsteps feel from granite to grass?"

     "O what was that bird," said horror to hearer,
     "Did you see that shape in the twisted trees?
     Behind you swiftly the figure comes softly,
     The spot on your skin is a shocking disease."

     "Out of this house"---said rider to reader,
     "Yours never will"---said farer to fearer
     "They're looking for you"---said hearer to horror,
     As he left them there, as he left them there.



     Our hunting fathers told the story
     Of the sadness of the creatures,
     Pitied the limits and the lack
     Set in their finished features;
     Saw in the lion's intolerant look,
     Behind the quarry's dying glare,
     Love raging for, the personal glory
     That reason's gift would add,
     The liberal appetite and power,
     The rightness of a god.

     Who, nurtured in that fine tradition,
     Predicted the result,
     Guessed Love by nature suited to
     The intricate ways of guilt,
     That human ligaments could so
     His southern gestures modify
     And make it his mature ambition
     To think no thought but ours,
     To hunger, work illegally,
     And be anonymous?



     Look, stranger, on this island now
     The leaping light for your delight discovers,
     Stand stable here
     And silent be,
     That through the channels of the ear
     May wander like a river
     The swaying sound of the sea.

     Here at a small field's ending pause
     Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges
     Oppose the pluck
     And knock of the tide,
     And the shingle scrambles after the suck-
     -ing surf, and a gull lodges
     A moment on its sheer side.

     Far off like floating seeds the ships
     Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,
     And this full view
     Indeed may enter
     And move in memory as now these clouds do,
     That pass the harbour mirror
     And all the summer through the water saunter.



     As I walked out one evening,
     Walking down Bristol Street,
     The crowds upon the pavement
     Were fields of harvest wheat.

     And down by the brimming river
     I heard a lover sing
     Under an arch of the railway:
     "Love has no ending.

     "I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
     Till China and Africa meet,
     And the river jumps over the mountain
     And the salmon sing in the street,

     "I'll love you till the ocean
     Is folded and hung up to dry
     And the seven stars go squawking
     Like geese about the sky.

     "The years shall run like rabbits,
     For in my arms I hold
     The Flower of the Ages,
     And the first love of the world."

     But all the clocks in the city
     Began to whirr and chime:
     "O let not Time deceive you,
     You cannot conquer Time.

     "In the burrows of the Nightmare
     Where Justice naked is,
     Time watches from the shadow
     And coughs when you would kiss.

     "In headaches and in worry
     Vaguely life leaks away,
     And Time will have his fancy
     To-morrow or to-day.

     "Into many a green valley
     Drifts the appalling snow;
     Time breaks the threaded dances
     And the diver's brilliant bow.

     "O plunge your hands in water,
     Plunge them in up to the wrist;
     Stare, stare in the basin
     And wonder what you've missed.

     "The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
     The desert sighs in the bed,
     And the crack in the tea-cup opens
     A lane to the land of the dead.

     "Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
     And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
     And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
     And Jill goes down on her back.

     "O look, look in the mirror,
     O look in your distress;
     Life remains a blessing
     Although you cannot bless.

     "O stand, stand at the window
     As the tears scald and start;
     You shall love your crooked nelghbour
     With your crooked heart."

     It was late, late in the evening,
     The lovers they were gone;
     The clocks had ceased their chiming,
     And the deep river ran on.



     Fish in the unruffled lakes
     Their swarming colours wear,
     Swans in the winter air
     A white perfection have,
     And the great lion walks
     Through his innocent grove;
     Lion, fish and swan
     Act, and are gone
     Upon Time's toppling wave.

     We, till shadowed days are done,
     We must weep and sing
     Duty's conscious wrong,
     The Devil in the clock,
     The goodness carefully worn
     For atonement or for luck;
     We must lose our loves,
     On each beast and bird that moves
     Turn an envious look.

     Sighs for folly done and said
     Twist our narrow days,
     But I must bless, I must praise
     That you, my swan, who have
     All gifts that to the swan
     Impulsive Nature gave,
     The majesty and pride,
     Last night should add
     Your voluntary love.



     Now the leaves are falling fast,
     Nurse's flowers will not last;
     Nurses to the graves are gone,
     And the prams go rolling on.

     Whispering neighbours, left and right,
     Pluck us from the real delight;
     And the active hands must freeze
     Lonely on the separate knees.

     Dead in hundreds at the back
     Follow wooden in our track,
     Arms raised stiffly to reprove
     In false attitudes of love.

     Starving through the leafless wood
     Trolls run scolding for their food;
     And the nightingale is dumb,
     And the angel will not come.

     Cold, impossible, ahead
     Lifts the mountain's lovely head
     Whose white waterfall could bless
     Travellers in their last distress.



     "O who can ever gaze his fill,"
     Farmer and fisherman say,
     "On native shore and local hill,
     Grudge aching limb or callus on the hand?
     Father, grandfather stood upon this land,
     And here the pilgrims from our loins will stand."
     So farmer and fisherman say
     In their fortunate hey-day:
     But Death's low answer drifts across
     Empty catch or harvest loss
     Or an unlucky May.
     The earth is an oyster with nothing inside it,
     Not to be born is the best for man;
     The end of toil is a bailiff's order,
     Throw down the mattock and dance while you can.

     "O life's too short for friends who share,"
     Travellers think in their hearts,
     "The city's common bed, the air,
     The mountain bivouac and the bathing beach,
     Where incidents draw every day from each
     Memorable gesture and witty speech."
     So travellers think in their hearts,
     Till malice or circumstance parts
     Them from their constant humour:
     And slyly Death's coercive rumour
     In that moment starts.
     A friend is the old old tale of Narcissus,
     Not to be born is the best for man;
     An active partner in something disgraceful,
     Change your partner, dance while you can.

     "O stretch your hands across the sea,"
     The impassioned lover cries,
     "Stretch them towards your harm and me.
     Our grass is green, and sensual our brief bed,
     The stream sings at its foot, and at its head
     The mild and vegetarian beasts are fed."
     So the impassioned lover cries
     Till the storm of pleasure dies:
     From the bedpost and the rocks
     Death's enticing echo mocks,
     And his voice replies.
     The greater the love, the more false to its object,
     Not to be born is the best for man;
     After the kiss comes the impulse to throttle,
     Break the embraces, dance while you can.

     "I see the guilty world forgiven,"
     Dreamer and drunkard sing,
     "The ladders let down out of heaven,
     The laurel springing from the martyr's blood,
     The children skipping where the weeper stood,
     The lovers natural and the beasts all good."
     So dreamer and drunkard sing
     Till day their sobriety bring:
     Parrotwise with Death's reply
     From whelping fear and nesting lie,
     Woods and their echoes ring.
     The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews,
     Not to be born is the best for man;
     The second-best is a formal order,
     The dance's pattern; dance while you can.

     Dance, dancefor the figure is easy,
     The tune is catching and will not stop;
     Dance till the stars come down from the rafters;
     Dance, dance, dance till you drop.



     About suffering they were never wrong,
     The Old Masters: how well they understood
     Its human position; how it takes place
     While someone else is eating  or opening a window or just walking dully
     How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
     For the miraculous birth, there always must be
     Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
     On a pond at the edge of the wood:
     They never forgot
     That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
     Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
     Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
     Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

     In Brueghel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
     Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
     Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
     But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
     As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
     Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
     Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
     Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.




     So from the years the gifts were showered; each
     Ran off with his at once into his life:
     Bee took the politics that make a hive,
     Fish swam as fish, peach settled into peach.

     And were successful at the first endeavour;
     The hour of birth their only time at college,
     They were content with their precocious knowledge,
     And knew their station and were good for ever.

     Till finally there came a childish creature
     On whom the years could model any feature,
     And fake with ease a leopard or a dove;

     Who by the lightest wind was changed and shaken,
     And looked for truth and was continually mistaken,
     Ana envied his few friends and chose his love.


     He turned his field into a meeting-place,
     And grew the tolerant ironic eye,
     And formed the mobile money-changer's face,
     And found the notion of equality.

     And strangers were as brothers to his clocks,
     And with his spires he made a human sky;
     Museums stored his learning like a box,
     And paper watched his money like a spy.

     It grew so fast his life was overgrown,
     And he forgot what once it had been made for,
     And gathered into crowds and was alone,

     And lived expensively and did without,
     And could not find the earth which he had paid for,
     Nor feel the love that he knew all about.


     The life of man is never quite completed;
     The daring and the chatter will go on:
     But, as an artist feels his power gone,
     These walk the earth and know themselves defeated.

     Some could not bear nor break the young and mourn for
     The wounded myths that once made nations good,
     Some lost a world they never understood,
     Some saw too clearly all that man was born for.

     Loss is their shadow-wife, Anxiety
     Receives them like a grand hotel; but where
     They may regret they must; their life, to hear

     The call of the forbidden cities, see
     The stranger watch them with a happy stare,
     And Freedom hostile in each home and tree.


     Nothing is given: we must find our law.
     Great buildings jostle in the sun for domination;
     Behind them stretch like sorry vegetation
     The low recessive houses of the poor.

     We have no destiny assigned us:
     Nothing is certain but the body; we plan
     To better ourselves; the hospitals alone remind us
     Of the equality of man.

     Children are really loved here, even by police:
     They speak of years before the big were lonely,
     And will be lost.

         And only
     The brass bands throbbing in the parks foretell
     Some future reign of happiness and peace.

     We learn to pity and rebel.



        (d. Jan. 1939)


     He disappeared in the dead of winter:
     The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
     And snow disfigured the public statues;
     The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
     What instruments we have agree
     The day of his death was a dark cold day.

     Far from his illness
     The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
     The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
     By mourning tongues
     The death of the poet was kept from his poems.
     But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,

     An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
     The provinces of his body revolted,
     The squares of his mind were empty,
     Silence invaded the suburbs,
     The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

     Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
     And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
     To find his happiness in another kind of wood
     And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
     The words of a dead man
     Are modified in the guts of the living.

     But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
     When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
     And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
     And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
     A few thousand will think of this day
     As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
     What instruments we have agree
     The day of his death was a dark cold day.


     You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
     The parish of rich women, physical decay,
     Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
     Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
     For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
     In the valley of its making where executives
     Would never want to tamper, flows on south
     From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
     Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
     A way of happening, a mouth.


     Earth, receive an honoured guest:
     William Yeats is laid to rest.
     Let the Irish vessel lie
     Emptied of its poetry.

     In the nightmare of the dark
     All the dogs of Europe bark,
     And the living nations wait,
     Each sequestered in its hate;

     Intellectual disgrace
     Stares from every human face,
     And the seas of pity lie
     Locked and frozen in each eye.

     Follow, poet, follow right
     To the bottom of the night,
     With your unconstraining voice
     Still persuade us to rejoice;

     With the firming of a verse
     Make a vineyard of the curse,
     Sing of human unsuccess
     In a rapture of distress;

     In the deserts of the heart
     Let the healing fountain start,
     In the prison of his days
     Teach the free man how to praise.



     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 tirmidly
     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.



        (Phi Beta Kappa Poem, Harvard, 1946)

     Ares at last has quit the field,
     The bloodstains on the bushes yield
        To seeping showers,
     And in their convalescent state
     The fractured towns associate
        With summer flowers.

     Encamped upon the college plain
     Raw veterans already train
        As freshman forces;
     Instructors with sarcastic tongue
     Shepherd the battle-weary young
        Through basic courses.

     Among bewildering appliances
     For mastering the arts and sciences
        They stroll or run,
     And nerves that steeled themselves to slaughter
     Are shot to pieces by the shorter
        Poems of Donne.

     Professors back from secret missions
     Resume their proper eruditions,
        Though some regret it;
     They liked their dictaphones a lot,
     They met some big wheels, and do not
        Let you forget it.

     But Zeus' inscrutable decree
     Permits the will-to-disagree
        To be pandemic,
     Ordains that vaudeville shall preach
     And every commencement speech
        Be a polemic.

     Let Ares doze, that other war
     Is instantly declared once more
        'Twixt those who follow
     Precocious Hermes all the way
     And those who without qualms obey
        Pompous Apollo.

     Brutal like all Olympic games,
     Though fought with similes and Christian names
        And less dramatic,
     This dialectic strife between
     The civil gods is just as mean,
        And more fanatic.

     What high immortals do in mirth
     Is life and death on Middle Earth;
        Their a-historic
     Antipathy forever gripes
     All ages and somatic types,
        The sophomoric

     Who face the future's darkest hints
     With giggles or with prairie squints
        As stout as Cortez,
     And those who like myself turn pale
     As we approach with ragged sail
        The fattening forties.

     The sons of Hermes love to play,
     And only do their best when they
        Are told they oughtn't;
     Apollo's children never shrink
     From boring jobs but have to think
        Their work important.

     Related by antithesis,
     A compromise between us is
     Respect perhaps but friendship never:
     Falstaff the fool confronts forever
        The prig Prince Hal.

     If he would leave the self alone,
     Apollo's welcome to the throne,
        Fasces and falcons;
     He loves to rule, has always done it;
     The earth would soon, did Hermes run it,
        Be like the Balkans.

     But jealous of our god of dreams,
     His common-sense in secret schemes
        To rule the heart;
     Unable to invent the lyre,
     Creates with simulated fire
        Official art.

     And when he occupies a college,
     Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
        He pays particular
     Attention to Commercial Thought,
     Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
        In his curricula.

     Athletic, extrovert and crude,
     For him, to work in solitude
        Is the offence,
     The goal a populous Nirvana:
     His shield bears this device: Mens sana
     Qui mal y pense.

     To-day his arms, we must confess,
     From Right to Left have met success,
        His banners wave
     From Yale to Princeton, and the news
     From Broadway to the Book Reviews
        Is very grave.

     His radio Homers all day long
     In over-Whitmanated song
        That does not scan,
     With adjectives laid end to end,
     Extol the doughnut and commend
        The Common Man.

     His, too, each homely lyric thing
     On sport or spousal love or spring
        Or dogs or dusters,
     Invented by some court-house bard
     For recitation by the yard
        In filibusters.

     To him ascend the prize orations
     And sets of fugal variations
        On some folk-ballad,
     While dietitians sacrifice
     A glass of prune-juice or a nice
        Marsh-mallow salad.

     Charged with his compound of sensational
     Sex plus some undenominational
        Religious matter,
     Enormous novels by co-eds
     Rain down on our defenceless heads
        Till our teeth chatter.

     In fake Hermetic uniforms
     Behind our battle-line, in swarms
        That keep alighting,
     His existentialists declare
     That they are in complete despair,
        Yet go on writing.

     No matter; He shall be defied;
     White Aphrodite is on our side:
        What though his threat
     To organize us grow more critical?
     Zeus willing, we, the unpolitical,
        Shall beat him yet.

     Lone scholars, sniping from the walls
     Of learned periodicals,
        Our facts defend,
     Our intellectual marines,
     Landing in little magazines,
        Capture a trend.

     By night our student Underground
     At cocktail parties whisper round
        From ear to ear;
     Fat figures in the public eye
     Collapse next morning, ambushed by
        Some witty sneer.

     In our morale must lie our strength:
     So, that we may behold at length
        Routed Apollo's
     Battalions melt away like fog,
     Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
        Which runs as follows:---

     Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
     Thou shalt not write thy doctor's thesis
        On education,
     Thou shalt not worship projects nor
     Shalt thou or thine bow down before

     Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
     Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
        Nor with compliance
     Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
     With statisticians nor commit
        A social science.

     Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
     With guys in advertising firms,
        Nor speak with such
     As read the Bible for its prose,
     Nor, above all, make love to those
        Who wash too much.

     Thou shalt not live within thy means
     Nor on plain water and raw greens.
        If thou must choose
     Between the chances, choose the odd;
     Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
        And take short views.



     A cloudless night like this
     Can set the spirit soaring:
     After a tiring day
     The clockwork spectacle is
     Impressive in a slightly boring
     Eighteenth-century way.

     It soothed adolescence a lot
     To meet so shameless a stare;
     The things I did could not
     Be so shocking as they said
     If that would still be there
     After the shocked were dead.

     Now, unready to die
     But already at the stage
     When one starts to resent the young,
     I am glad those points in the sky
     May also be counted among
     The creatures of Middle-age.

     It's cosier thinking of night
     As more an Old People's Home
     Than a shed for a faultless machine,
     That the red pre-Cambrian light
     Is gone like Imperial Rome
     Or myself at seventeen.

     Yet however much we may like
     The stoic manner in which
     The classical authors wrote,
     Only the young and the rich
     Have the nerve or the figure to strike
     The lacrimae rerum note.

     For the present stalks abroad
     Like the past and its wronged again
     Whimper and are ignored,
     And the truth cannot be hid;
     Somebody chose their pain,
     What needn't have happened did.

     Occurring this very night
     By no established rule,
     Some event may already have hurled
     Its first little No at the right
     Of the laws we accept to school
     Our post-diluvian world:

     But the stars burn on overhead,
     Unconscious of final ends,
     As I walk home to bed,
     Asking what judgement waits
     My person, all my friends,
     And these United States.



     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.



     She looked over his shoulder
     For vines and olive trees,
     Marble well-governed cities
     And ships upon untamed seas,
     But there on the shining metal
     His hands had put instead
     An artificial wilderness
     And a sky like lead.

     A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
     No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
     Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
     Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
     An unintelligible multitude,
     A million eyes, a million boots in line,
     Without expression, waiting for a sign.

     Out of the air a voice without a face
     Proved by statistics that some cause was just
     In tones as dry and level as the place:
     No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
     Column by column in a cloud of dust
     They marched away enduring a belief
     Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

     She looked over his shoulder
     For ritual pieties,
     White flower-garlanded heifers,
     Libation and sacrifice,
     But there on the shining metal
     Where the altar should have been,
     She saw by his flickering forge-light
     Quite another scene.

     Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
     Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
     And sentries sweated for the day was hot:
     A crowd of ordinary decent folk
     Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
     As three pale figures were led forth and bound
     To three posts driven upright in the ground.

     The mass and majesty of this world, all
     That carries weight and always weighs, the same
     Lay in the hands of others; they were small
     And could not hope for help and no help came:
     What their foes liked to do was done, their shame
     Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
     And died as men before their bodies died.

     She looked over his shoulder
     For athletes at their games,
     Men and women in a dance
     Moving their sweet limbs
     Quick, quick, to music,
     But there on the shining shield
     His hands had set no dancing-floor
     But a weed-choked field.

     A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
     Loitered about that vacancy; a bird
     Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
     That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
     Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
     Of any world where promises were kept,
     Or one could weep because another wept.

     The thin-lipped armorer,
     Hephaestos, hobbled away,
     Thetis of the shining breasts
     Cried out in dismay
     At what the god had wrought
     To please her son, the strong
     Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
     Who would not live long.



        (In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
        martyred at Flossenbürg, April 9, 1945)

     He told us we were free to choose
     But, children as we were, we thought---
     "Paternal Love will only use
     Force in the last resort

     On those too bumptious to repent."
     Accustomed to religious dread,
     It never crossed our minds He meant
     Exactly what He said.

     Perhaps He frowns, perhaps He grieves,
     But it seems idle to discuss
     If anger or compassion leaves
     The bigger bangs to us.

     What reverence is rightly paid
     To a Divinity so odd
     He lets the Adam whom He made
     Perform the Acts of God?

     It might be jolly if we felt
     Awe at this Universal Man
     (When kings were local, people knelt);
     Some try to, but who can?

     The self-observed observing Mind
     We meet when we observe at all
     Is not alariming or unkind
     But utterly banal.

     Though instruments at Its command
     Make wish and counterwish come true,
     It clearly cannot understand
     What It can clearly do.

     Since the analogies are rot
     Our senses based belief upon,
     We have no means of learning what
     Is really going on,

     And must put up with having learned
     All proofs or disproofs that we tender
     Of His existence are returned
     Unopened to the sender.

     Now, did He really break the seal
     And rise again? We dare not say;
     But conscious unbelievers feel
     Quite sure of Judgement Day.

     Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,
     As dead as we shall ever be,
     Speaks of some total gain or loss,
     And you and I are free

     To guess from the insulted face
     Just what Appearances He saves
     By suffering in a public place
     A death reserved for slaves.



     Nobody I know would like to be buried
     with a silver cocktail-shaker,
     a transistor radio and a strangled
     daily help, or keep his word because

     of a great-great-grandmother who got laid
     by a sacred beast. Only a press lord
     could have built San Simeon: no unearned income
     can buy us back the gait and gestures

     to manage a baroque staircase, or the art
     of believing footmen don't hear
     human speech. (In adulterine castles
     our half-strong might hang their jackets

     while mending their lethal bicycle-chains:
     luckily, there are not enough
     crags to go round.) Still, Hetty Pegler's Tump
     is worth a visit, so is Schönbrunn,

     to look at someone's idea of the body
     that should have been his, as the flesh
     Mum formulated shouldn't: that whatever
     he does or feels in the mood for,

     stock-taking, horse-play, worship, making love,
     he stays the same shape, disgraces
     a Royal I. To be over-admired is not
     good enough: although a fine figure

     is rare in either sex, others like it
     have existed before. One may
     be a Proustian snob or a sound Jacksonian
     democrat, but which of us wants

     to be touched inadvertently, even
     by his beloved? We know all about graphs
     and Darwin, enormous rooms no longer
     superhumanise, but earnest

     city-planners are mistaken: a pen
     for a rational animal
     is no fitting habitat for Adam's
     sovereign clone. I, a transplant

     from overseas, at last am dominant
     over three acres and a blooming
     conurbation of country lives, few of whom
     I shall ever meet, and with fewer

     converse. Linnaeus recoiled from the Amphibia
     as a naked gruesome rabble,
     Arachnids give me the shudders, but fools
     who deface their emblem of guilt

     are germane to Hitler: the race of spiders
     shall be allowed their webs. I should like
     to be to my water-brethren as a spell
     of fine weather: Many are stupid,

     and some, maybe, are heartless, but who is not
     vulnerable, easy to scare,
     and jealous of his privacy? (I am glad
     the blackbird, for instance, cannot

     tell if I'm talking English, German or
     just typewriting: that what he utters
     I may enjoy as an alien rigmarole.) I ought
     to outlast the limber dragonflies

     as the muscle-bound firs are certainly
     going to outlast me: I shall not end
     down any oesophagus, though I may succumb
     to a filter-passing predator,

     shall, anyhow, stop eating, surrender my smidge
     of nitrogen to the World Fund
     with a drawn-out Oh (unless at the nod
     of some jittery commander

     I be translated in a nano-second
     to a c.c. of poisonous nothing
     in a giga-death). Should conventional
     blunderbuss war and its routiers

     invest my bailiwick, I shall of course
     assume the submissive posture:
     but men are not wolves and it probably
     won't help. Territory, status,

     and love, sing all the birds, are what matter:
     what I dared not hope or fight for
     is, in my fifties, mine, a toft-and-croft
     where I needn't, ever, be at home to

     those I am not at home with, not a cradle,
     a magic Eden without clocks,
     and not a windowless grave, but a place
     I may go both in and out of.



        (for Chester Kallman)

     A living-room, the catholic area you
     (Thou, rather) and I may enter
     without knocking, leave without a bow, confronts
     each visitor with a style,

     a secular faith: he compares its dogmas
     with his, and decides whether
     he would like to see more of us. (Spotless rooms
     where nothing's left lying about

     chill me, so do cups used for ash-trays or smeared
     with lip-stick: the homes I warm to,
     though seldom wealthy, always convey a feeling
     of bills being promptly settled

     with cheques that don't bounce.) There's no We at an instant,
     only Thou and I, two regions
     of protestant being which nowhere overlap:
     a room is too small, therefore,

     if its occupants cannot forget at will
     that they are not alone, too big
     if it gives them any excuse in a quarrel
     for raising their voices. What,

     quizzing ours, would Sherlock Holmes infer? Plainly,
     ours is a sitting culture
     in a generation which prefers comfort
     (or is forced to prefer it)

     to command, would rather incline its buttocks
     on a well-upholstered chair
     than the burly back of a slave: a quick glance
     at book-titles would tell him

     that we belong to the clerisy and spend much
     on our food. But could he read
     what our prayers and jokes are about, what creatures
     frighten us most, or what names

     head our roll-call of persons we would least like
     to go to bed with? What draws
     singular lives together in the first place,
     loneliness, lust, ambition,

     or mere convenience, is obvious, why they drop
     or murder one another
     clear enough: how they create, though, a common world
     between them, like Bombelli's

     impossible yet useful numbers, no one
     has yet explained. Still, they do
     manage to forgive impossible behavior,
     to endure by some miracle

     conversational tics and larval habits
     without wincing (were you to die,
     I should miss yours). It's a wonder that neither
     has been butchered by accident,

     or, as lots have, silently vanished into
     History's criminal noise
     unmourned for, but that, after twenty-four years,
     we should sit here in Austria

     as cater-cousins, under the glassy look
     of a Naples Bambino,
     the portrayed regards of Strauss and Stravinsky,
     doing British cross-word puzzles,

     is very odd indeed. I'm glad the builder gave
     our common-room small windows
     through which no observed outsider can observe us:
     every home should be a fortress,

     equipped with all the very latest engines
     for keeping Nature at bay,
     versed in all ancient magic, the arts of quelling
     the Dark Lord and his hungry

     animivorous chimaeras. (Any brute
     can buy a machine in a shop,
     but the sacred spells are secret to the kind,
     and if power is what we wish

     they won't work.) The ogre will come in any case:
     so Joyce has warned us. Howbeit,
     fasting or feasting, we both know this: without
     the Spirit we die, but life

     without the Letter is in the worst of taste,
     and always, though truth and love
     can never really differ, when they seem to,
     the subaltern should be truth.


             August 1968

        The Ogre does what ogres can,
        Deeds quite impossible for Man,
        But one prize is beyond his reach,
        The Ogre cannot master Speech.
        About a subjugated plain,
        Among its desperate and slain,
        The Ogre stalks with hands on hips,
        While drivel gushes from his lips.


     It's natural the Boys should whoop it up for
     so huge a phallic triumph, an adventure
        it would not have occurred to women
        to think worth while, made possible only

     because we like huddling in gangs and knowing
     the exact time: yes, our sex may in fairness
        hurrah the deed, although the motives
        that primed it were somewhat less than menschlich.

     A grand gesture. But what does it period?
     What does it osse? We were always adroiter
        with objects than lives, and more facile
        at courage than kindness: from the moment

     the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
     a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam's,
        still don't fit us exactly, modern
        only in this---our lack of decorum.

     Homer's heroes were certainly no braver
     than our Trio, but more fortunate: Hector
        was excused the insult of having
        his valor covered by television.

     Worth going to see? I can well believe it.
     Worth seeing? Mneh! I once rode through a desert
        and was not charmed: give me a watered
        lively garden, remote from blatherers

     about the New, the von Brauns and their ilk, where
     on August mornings I can count the morning
        glories where to die has a meaning,
        and no engine can shift my perspective.

     Unsmudged, thank God, my Moon still queens the Heavens
     as She ebbs and fulls, a Presence to glop at,
        Her Old Man, made of grit not protein,
        still visits my Austrian several

     with His old detachment, and the old warnings
     still have power to scare me: Hybris comes to
        an ugly finish, Irreverence
        is a greater oaf than Superstition.

     Our apparatniks will continue making
     the usual squalid mess called History:
        all we can pray for is that artists,
        chefs and saints may still appear to blithe it.



          Our body is a moulded river

     Out of a bellicose fore-time, thundering
     head-on collisions of cloud and rock in an
     up-thrust, crevasse-and-avalanche, troll country,
     deadly to breathers,

     it whelms into our picture below the melt-line,
     where tarns lie frore under frowning cirques, goat-bell,
     wind-breaker, fishing-rod, miner's-lamp country,
     already at ease with

     the mien and gestures that become its kindness,
     in streams, still anonymous, still jumpable,
     flows as it should through any declining country
     in probing spirals.

     Soon of a size to be named and the cause of
     dirty in-fighting among rival agencies,
     down a steep stair, penstock-and-turbine country,
     it plunges ram-stam,

     to foam through a wriggling gorge incised in softer
     strata, hemmed between crags that nauntle heaven,
     robber-baron, tow-rope, portage-way country,
     nightmare of merchants.

     Disemboguing from foothills, now in hushed meanders,
     now in riffling braids, it vaunts across a senile
     plain, well-entered, chateau-and-cider-press country,
     its regal progress

     gallanted for a while by quibbling poplars,
     then by chimneys: led off to cool and launder
     retort, steam-hammer, gasometer country,
     it changes color.

     Polluted, bridged by girders, banked by concrete,
     now it bisects a polyglot metropolis,
     ticker-tape, taxi, brothel, foot-lights country,
     à-la-mode always.

     Broadening or burrowing to the moon's phases,
     turbid with pulverised wastemantle, on through
     flatter, duller, hotter, cotton-gin country
     it scours, approaching

     the tidal mark where it puts off majesty,
     disintegrates, and through swamps of a delta,
     punting-pole, fowling-piece, oyster-tongs country,
     wearies to its final

     act of surrender, effacement, atonement
     in a huge amorphous aggregate no cuddled
     attractive child ever dreams of, non-country,
     image of death as

     a spherical dew-drop of life. Unlovely
     monsters, our tales believe, can be translated
     too, even as water, the selfless mother
     of all especials.



        After an article by Mary J. Marples
        in Scientific American, January, 1969

     On this day tradition allots
        to taking stock of our lives,
     my greetings to all of you, Yeasts,
        Bacteria, Viruses,
     Aerobics and Anaerobics:
        A Very Happy New Year
     to all for whom my ectoderm
        is as Middle-Earth to me.

     For creatures your size I offer
        a free choice of habitat,
     so settle yourselves in the zone
        that suits you best, in the pools
     of my pores or the tropical
        forests of arm-pit and crotch,
     in the deserts of my fore-arms,
        or the cool woods of my scalp.

     Build colonies: I will supply
        adequate warmth and moisture,
     the sebum and lipids you need,
        on condition you never
     do me annoy with your presence,
        but behave as good guests should,
     not rioting into acne
        or athlete's-foot or a boil.

     Does my inner weather affect
        the surfaces where you live?
     Do unpredictable changes
        record my rocketing plunge
     from fairs when the mind is in tift
        and relevant thoughts occur
     to fouls when nothing will happen
        and no one calls and it rains.

     I should like to think that I make
        a not impossible world,
     but an Eden it cannot be:
        my games, my purposive acts,
     may turn to catastrophes there.
        If you were religious folk,
     how would your dramas justify
        unmerited suffering?

     By what myths would your priests account
        for the hurricanes that come
     twice every twenty-four hours,
        each time I dress or undress,
     when, clinging to keratin rafts,
        whole cities are swept away
     to perish in space, or the Flood
        that scalds to death when I bathe?

     Then, sooner or later, will dawn
        a Day of Apocalypse,
     when my mantle suddenly turns
        too cold, too rancid, for you,
     appetising to predators
        of a fiercer sort, and I
     am stripped of excuse and nimbus,
        a Past, subject to Judgement.


Last-modified: Tue, 28 May 2002 20:18:39 GMT
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