Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor
(Poem #307) Lay your sleeping head, my love
Lay your sleeping head, my love, Human on my faithless arm; Time and fevers burn away Individual beauty from Thoughtful children, and the grave Proves the child ephemeral: But in my arms till break of day Let the living creature lie, Mortal, guilty, but to me The entirely beautiful. Soul and body have no bounds: To lovers as they lie upon Her tolerant enchanted slope In their ordinary swoon, Grave the vision Venus sends Of supernatural sympathy, Universal love and hope; While an abstract insight wakes Among the glaciers and the rocks The hermit's sensual ecstasy. Certainty, fidelity On the stroke of midnight pass Like vibrations of a bell, And fashionable madmen raise Their pedantic boring cry: Every farthing of the cost, All the dreaded cards foretell, Shall be paid, but from this night Not a whisper, not a thought, Not a kiss nor look be lost. Beauty, midnight, vision dies: Let the winds of dawn that blow Softly round your dreaming head Such a day of sweetness show Eye and knocking heart may bless, Find the mortal world enough; Noons of dryness see you fed By the involuntary powers, Nights of insult let you pass Watched by every human love.
Abraham has made some sniffy comments recently about Auden, and suggested that if we want more Auden we could put him in through the Sunday poems. Well, obviously I can't resist that challenge lying, so here's one of his best. In a way though I can understand what Abraham says when he says that he just doesn't get Auden. I think its true that Auden hasn't written the sort of poems one can simply love and remember and keep repeating to yourself. There is not much delight in Auden's poems. Instead they are full of a troubled intelligence, unease, ambiguity, sadness and a sense of anguish at the frailty of things. The above poem sums this up in the first two lines: "Lay your sleeping head, my love,/Human on my faithless arm..." Auden is illusionless about love, but that doesn't stop him from being fully, painfully, aware of its beauty and tenderness. Auden, its often been said, was perhaps the first really modern poet. He was not a "Modern" poet like Eliot and Pound, experimenting with forms, with ideas and concepts. He was too human (as opposed to intellectual), too romantic even for that. At the same time, he's not Romantic - if he had idealism (which initially at least he did), it was never blind, and as time and the Thirties took their toll his disillusioned intelligence grew, and that's what give the later poems the full force of their understanding, despair and yet some sort of hope in the beauty of things, and also in a religious feeling of sorts. When you read Auden its not for the beauty of the poems, but because you know that here is a poet who really reflects the way you think. Auden's modernity, rather than Modernity, also comes through in the technical aspect of the poems. Auden's technical skills are awesome. He's a rebuke to all those people who imagine that they can just churn out something and call it poetry. His skills are rarely ostentatious, but are always there. This is the poet as a craftsman, each poem finely, but unobtrusively turned. He also has a matchless way with phrases - Auden's lines feel so _right_, his phrases not polished and beautiful, but exactly correct. You know without thinking, often without understanding, that these are _real_ poems. And while he can do free verse as well as the Modernists, I think the humanity and the ability to communicate with people that he had, made him aware that sometimes the formal poetic forms - ballads, sonnets, quatrains, rhymes - work best. There have been better and greater poets this century, however you choose to judge these criteria. Yet Auden, I think, remains the one most representative of it. Vikram [And a quick comment from me - while I don't have much to say about the poem as a whole, the first two lines rank high on my list of immortal openings. There is something about the prase 'human on my faithless arm' that is, as Vikram put it, _right_. - m.]