Monday, February 21, 2011


[today being the 104th anniversary of Auden's birth -- this is not an anthology piece but is, I think, one of the better examples of Auden's late style when it comes off. Proximate source here.]

W.H. Auden

There is a time to admit how much the sword decides,
with flourishing horns to salute the conqueror,
_____impassive, cloaked and great on
__horseback under his faffling flag.

Changes of heart should also occasion song, like his
who, turning back from the crusaders’ harbour, broke
_____with our aggressive habit
__once and for all and was the first

to see all penniless creatures as our siblings. Then
at all times it is good to praise the shining earth,
_____dear to us whether we choose our
__duty or do something horrible.

Dearest to each his birthplace; but to recall a green
valley where mushrooms fatten in the summer nights
_____and silvered willows copy
__the circumflexions of the stream

is not my gladness today: I am presently moved
by sun-drenched Parthenopea, my thanks are for you,
_____Ischia, to whom a fair wind has
__brought me rejoicing with dear friends

from soiled productive cities. How well you correct
our injured eyes, how gently you train us to see
_____things and men in perspective
__underneath your uniform light.

Noble are the plans of the shirt-sleeved engineer,
but luck, you say, does more. What design could have washed
_____with such delicate yellows
__and pinks and greens your fishing ports

that lean against ample Epomeo, holding on
to the rigid folds of her skirts? The boiling springs
_____which betray her secret fever,
__make limber the gout-stiffened joint

and improve the venereal act; your ambient peace
in any case is a cure for, ceasing to think
_____of a way to get on, we
__learn to simply wander about

by twisting paths which at any moment reveal
some vista as an absolute goal; eastward, perhaps,
_____suddenly there, Vesuvius,
__looming across the bright bland bay

like a massive family pudding, or, around
a southern point, sheer-sided Capri who by herself
_____defends the cult of Pleasure,
__a jealous, sometimes a cruel, god.

Always with some cool space or shaded surface, too,
you offer a reason to sit down; tasting what bees
_____from the blossoming chestnut
__or short but shapely dark-haired men

from the aragonian grape distil, your amber wine,
your coffee-coloured honey, we believe that our
_____lives are as welcome to us as
__loud explosions are to your saints.

Not that you lie about pain or pretend that a time
of darkness and outcry will not come back; upon
_____your quays, reminding the happy
__stranger that all is never well,

sometimes a donkey breaks out into a choking wail
of utter protest of what is the case or his
_____master sighs for a Brooklyn
__where shirts are silk and pants are new,

far from tall Restituta’s all-too-watchful eye,
whose annual patronage, they say, is bought with blood.
_____That, blessed and formidable
__Lady, we hope is not true; but since

nothing is free, whatever you charge shall be paid,
that these days of exotic splendour may stand out
_____in each lifetime like marble
__mileposts in an alluvial land.

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