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The More Loving One -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by Neha Kumar:
(Poem #618) The More Loving One
 Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
 That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
 But on earth indifference is the least
 We have to dread from man or beast.

 How should we like it were stars to burn
 With a passion for us we could not return?
 If equal affection cannot be,
 Let the more loving one be me.

 Admirer as I think I am
 Of stars that do not give a damn,
 I cannot, now I see them, say
 I missed one terribly all day.

 Were all stars to disappear or die,
 I should learn to look at an empty sky
 And feel its total dark sublime,
 Though this might take me a little time.
-- W H Auden
There's a certain satisfaction in being able to confront this situation, and
still go on -- to find a meaning in our lives that comes, not from the outer
universe, but from within ourselves. The poet would much rather be "the more
loving one" than the one to show indifference to those that love. Perhaps it
is the notion of being able to govern one's own emotions independently of
others' towards us that leads him to feel this way. And yet, there is a
comfort in knowing that, regardless of the absence of mutual love and
admiration, everything in nature approaches that point of equilibrium where
indifference is matched by indifference, love by love.

In the first stanza, the predominant theme is of indifference. We know the
stars to be incapable of feeling or expressing any kind of emotion towards
us, but that indifference is insignificant if compared to the several
concerns that plague us in our relationships with other creatures of the
earth. And yet, as he says in the next stanza, what if the stars did love us
passionately and we were unable to reciprocate? It is the failiarity of the
poet with the pain of unrequited love that leads him to desire being "the
more loving one". After all, we rarely wish for others to be afflicted with
the same pain and anguish we ourselves recognize to be unbearable.

Perhaps the last two stanzas are a means of consolation for the poet, as he
realizes (or wishes himself to realize) the fact that however deeply he
might admire and love the stars that care little about him, were he to lose
them, time would play its role as the great healer and he would eventually
learn to go on living without them.

I think the imagery of the stars is especially beautiful in that it serves
to emphasize the notion of distance/separation that characterizes unrequited
love. No matter how much love he may feel, the poet realizes that he could
never quite lessen this separation and acquire the love of the one he loves,
and thus resigns himself to wait indefinitely for time to heal his wounds.


67 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...


Sildenafil Citrate said...

W H Auden was such a great poet and one of the things I like the most about this particular poet is his way to project ideas and how he chose the appropriate meaningful words to make the final lines rhyme!

Anonymous said...

This has been one of my favourite poems for years! I have always lived by "If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me". It reminds me it's a better cause to love someone more than be indifferent.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


Sexo c/ Amor? said...

Love this! Auden is great! My favorite is Funeral Blues.

kisses, from Brazil

Anonymous said...

to "generic viagra" thats a really beautiful poem, was it inspired by Auden? do you write much because its a really nice little rhyme.

Anonymous said...

I love how universal the idea of stars is, and the painfully humble last line (Though this might take me a little time.) is. What a lovely poem. I discovered it by chance today whilst flicking through a compilation and the timing of finding it and my emotional state at the time matched perfectly. Only now do I fully understand how poetry can have such a profound effect on people. Before I had no idea a collection of words could be reflective of my feelings. Thank you WH Auden

Anonymous said...

If have the sentence "If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me" tattooed on the inside of my left arm, without knowing it was part of a whole poem. This knowledge and your analyse really brought it to a new dimension for me. Thank you Neha.
The sentence and poem is truly like a prayer and a guidance for life!

espi said...

A bit odd to characterize this as a "prayer," Anonymous6, for this poem is rather unreligious. To whom or to what would the speaker pray? God doesn't appear in the poem's landscape, and not even the stars care about man's fate.

Anonymous said...

I cannot agree that .."on earth indifference is the least, we have to dread from man or beast".
If you are in a relationship (marriage!), and you believe you are being treated with indifference, it is the most damaging and soul-destroying experience.
Signed: been_there

Anonymous said...

This analysis is absolutely perfect, and it put all the thoughts I had about it into actual words. Thank you so much for writing this, as it has also cleared up some confusing spots for me.

Deep Sea said...

Stumbled upon your blog just now while googling this poem. I discovered these beautiful lines myself today.

I'll visit your blog again.

Linking it to mine.


Anonymous said...


Robert Somerville said...

Thank you for the insightful analysis. I came looking for that wonderful phrase "If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me" and found something a whole lot more!

Thanks again,


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Anonymous said...

Very comforting poem for me (being in a similar situation).

"If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me", can be an expression of the love as you say:

"After all, we rarely wish for others to be afflicted with
the same pain and anguish we ourselves recognize to be unbearable."

But I also like to interpret it as being a solely egoistical emotion. That however unbearable unanswered love is, the feeling of loving someone makes it worth it. So that the author would much rather have loved and lost than to never have loved at all so to speak.

sry for my bad english and thank you for a great post.

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Anonymous said...

I agree that Auden's use of stars as a subject invokes the distance of unrequited love. But more powerful than that for me is that he is comparing the one he loves with a star. A star! What could be more beautiful and shiny and alluring and simple and unattainable than a star? I take that he is saying that in his situation he has no choice but to plod on and convince himself that "this might take me a little time" but the reality is that pitch black will never be better than a starry sky. The problem is that he has no choice but to bear the pitch blackness. I think that in what Auden doesn't say, in what he invokes you to read between the lines, lies the beauty of the poem. The lasting image I have is of him alone in the darkness. JVP

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JHC1 said...

What a fantastic analysis of the third and fourth stanzas. Auden is not saying that the man cared so little over the stars that they were easily forgotten. He is saying that, despite the strength of the man's love, time will free him it. Whether the man wants it to or not.

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