Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Little Auden in the Night

I came home last night from an administrative hearing with a massive headache and, after taking the dogs out, promptly fell asleep. I woke up an hour or-so ago and took the dogs out again. Now I can't sleep. Bother. I hope to take some time off over the holidays and get back to work on my essay. At the moment, there is simply too much going on, at my day job and otherwise.

I am on a little Auden jag, and thought this one perfectly expressed my state of mind about a number of things--poetry, the night, politics, the nation.


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 shamelesss 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 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.

Occuring 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 judgment waits
My person, all my friends,
And these United States.

-August, 1948


From W.H. Auden: Collected Poems, Edited by Edward Mendleson, (Vintage Books, 1991)