Monday, November 22, 2010

As I Walked Out One Evening by W. H. Auden

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 neighbor
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.


  1. The Unknown Citizen
    by W. H. Auden

    (To JS/07 M 378
    This Marble Monument
    Is Erected by the State)

    He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
    One against whom there was no official

    And all the reports on his conduct agree
    That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a saint,
    For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.

    Except for the War till the day he retired
    He worked in a factory and never got fired,
    But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.

    Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
    For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
    (Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
    And our Social Psychology workers found
    That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.

    The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
    And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.

    Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
    And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.

    Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
    He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
    And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
    A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.

    Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
    That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
    When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.

    He was married and added five children to the population,
    Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his generation.

    And our teachers report that he never interfered with their education.

    Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
    Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard

  2. September 1, 1939
    by W. H. Auden

    I sit in one of the dives
    On Fifty-second Street
    Uncertain and afraid
    As the clever hopes expire
    Of a low dishonest decade:
    Waves of anger and fear
    Circulate over the bright
    And darkened lands of the earth,
    Obsessing our private lives;
    The unmentionable odour of death
    Offends the September night.

    Faces along the bar
    Cling to their average day:
    The lights must never go out,
    The music must always play,
    All the conventions conspire
    To make this fort assume
    The furniture of home;
    Lest we should see where we are,
    Lost in a haunted wood,
    Children afraid of the night
    Who have never been happy or good.

    From the conservative dark
    Into the ethical life
    The dense commuters come,
    Repeating their morning vow;
    "I will be true to the wife,
    I'll concentrate more on my work,"
    And helpless governors wake
    To resume their compulsory game:
    Who can release them now,
    Who can reach the deaf,
    Who can speak for the dumb?

    All I have is a voice
    To undo the folded lie,
    The romantic lie in the brain
    Of the sensual man-in-the-street
    And the lie of Authority
    Whose buildings grope the sky:
    There is no such thing as the State
    And no one exists alone;
    Hunger allows no choice
    To the citizen or the police;
    We must love one another or die.

    Defenceless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies;
    Yet, dotted everywhere,
    Ironic points of light
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.

  3. W.Auden, 1907-1973, the 'poet companion' to Richard Overy's "The Twilight Years""