Wednesday, March 20, 2019

At the Grave of Henry James by W.H. Auden

At the Grave of Henry James
by W.H. Auden

The snow, less intransigeant than their marble,
Has left the defence of whiteness to these tombs;
For all the pools at my feet
Accommodate blue, now, and echo such clouds as occur
To the sky, and whatever bird or mourner the passing
Moment remarks they repeat.

While the rocks, named after singular spaces
Within which images wandered once that caused
All to tremble and offend,
Stand here in an innocent stillness, each marking the spot
Where one more series of errors lost its uniqueness
And novelty came to an end.

To whose real advantage were such transactions
When worlds of reflection were exchanged for trees?
What living occasion can Be just to the absent? 0 noon but reflects on itself,
And the small taciturn stone that is the only witness
To a great and talkative man,

Has no more judgment than my ignorant shadow
Of odious comparisons or distant clocks Which challenge and interfere
With the heart's instantaneous reading of time, time that is
A warm enigma no longer in you for whom I
Surrender my private cheer.

Startling the awkward footsteps of my apprehension,
The flushed assault of your recognition is
The donne of this doubtful hour:
0 stern proconsul of intractable provinces,
0 poet of the difficult, dear addicted artist,
Assent to my soil and flower.

As I stand awake on our solar fabric,
That primary machine, the earth, which gendarmes, banks,
And aspirin presuppose,
On which the clumsy and sad may all sit down, and any who will
Say their a-ha to the beautiful, the common locus
Of the master and the rose.

Our theatre, scaffold, and erotic city
Where all the infirm species are partners in the act
Of encroachment bodies crave,
Though solitude in death is de rigeur for their flesh,
And the self-denying hermit flies as it approaches
Like the carnivore to a cave.

That its plural numbers may unite in meaning,
Its vulgar tongues unravel the knotted mass
Of the improperly conjunct,
Open my eyes now to its hinted significant figures,
Sharpen my cars to detect amid its brilliant uproar
The low thud of the defunct.

0 dwell ironic at my living centre,
Half ancestor, half child; because the actual self
Round whom time revolves so fast
Is so afraid of what its motions might possibly do,
That the actor is never there when his really important
Acts happen. Only the past

Is present, no one about but the dead as,
Equipped with a few inherited odds and ends,
One after another we are
Fired into life to seek that unseen target where all
Our equivocal judgments are judged and resolved in
One whole alas or hurrah.

And only the unborn mark the disaster
When, though it makes no difference to the pretty airs
The bird of Appetite sings,
And Amour Propre is his usual amusing self,
Out from the jungle of an undistinguished moment
The flexible Shadow springs.

Perhaps the honour of a great house, perhaps its
Cradles and tombs may persuade the bravado of
The bachelor mind to doubt
The dishonest path, or save from disgraceful collapse
The creature's shrinking withness bellowed at and tickled
By the huge Immodest Without.

Now more than ever when torches and snare-drum
Excite the squat women of the saurian brain
Till a milling mob of fears
Break in insultingly on anywhere, when in our dreams
Pigs play on the organs and the blue sky runs shrieking
As the Crack of Doom appears,

Are the good ghosts needed with the white magic
Of their subtle loves. War has no ambiguities
Like a marriage; the result
Required of its affaire fatale is simple and sad,
The physical removal of all human objects
That conceal the Difficult.

Then remember me that I may remember
The test we have to learn to shudder for is not
An historical event,
That neither the low democracy of a nightmare nor
An army's primitive tidings may deceive me
About our predicament.

That catastrophic situation which neither
Victory nor defeat can annul: to be
Deaf yet determined to sing,
To be lame and blind yet burning for the Great Good Place,
To be essentially corrupt yet mournfully attracted
By the Real Distinguished Thing.

Let this orchard point to its stable arrangement
Of accomplished bones as a proof that our lives
Conceal a pattern which shows
A tendency to execute formative movements, to have
Definite experiences in their execution,
To rejoice in knowing it grows.

And shall I not specially bless you as, vexed with
My little inferior questions, to-day I stand
Beside the bed where you rest
Who opened such passionate arms to your Bon when it ran
Towards you with its overwhelming reasons pleading
All beautifully in its breast?

0 with what innocence your hand submitted
To those formal rules that help a child to play,
While your heart, fastidious as
A delicate nun, remained true to the rare noblesse
Of your lucid gift, and for its own sake ignored the
Resentful muttering Mass.

Whose ruminant hatred of all which cannot
Be simplified or stolen is still at large;
No death can assuage its lust
To vilify the landscape of Distinction and see
The heart of the Personal brought to a systolic standstill,
The Tall to diminished dust.

Preserve me, Master, from its vague incitement,
Yours be the disciplinary image that holds
Me back from agreeable wrong,
And the clutch of eddying muddle, lest
Proportion shed The alpine chill of her shrugging editorial shoulder
On my loose impromptu song.

Suggest; so may I segregate my disorder
Into districts of prospective value: approve;
Lightly, lightly then may I dance
Over the frontier of the obvious and fumble no more
In the old limp pocket of the minor exhibition,
Nor riot with irrelevance.

And no longer shoe geese or water stakes but
Bolt in my day my grain of truth to the barn
Where tribulations may leap
With their long-lost brothers at last in the festival
Of which not one has a dissenting image, and the
Flushed immediacy sleep.

Knowing myself a mobile animal descended
From an ancient line of respectable fish,
With a certain mechant charm,
Occupying the earth for a grass-grown interval between
Two oscillations of polar ice, engaged in weaving
His conscience upon its calm.

Despising Now yet afraid of Hereafter,
Unable in spite of his stop-watch and lens
To imagine the rising Rome
To which his tools and tales migrate, to guess from what shore
The signal will flash, to observe the anarchist's gestation
In the smug constricted home.

Into this city from the shining lowlands
Blows a wind that whispers of uncovered skulls
And fresh ruins under the moon,
Of hopes that will not survive the secousse of this spring,
Of blood and flames, of the terror that walks by night and
The sickness that strikes at noon.

All will be judged. Master of nuance and scruple,
Pray for me and for all writers living or dead;
Because there are many whose works
Are in better taste than their lives, because there is no end
To the vanity of our calling: make intercession
For the treason of all clerks.

Because the darkness is never so distant,
And there is never much time for the arrogant
Spirit to flutter its wings,
Or the broken bone to rejoice, or the cruel to cry,
For Him whose property is always to have mercy, the author
And giver of all good things.

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