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Law Like Love -- W H Auden

Guest poem sent in by Aseem Kaul
(Poem #1502) Law Like Love
 Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
 Law is the one
 All gardeners obey
 To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

 Law is the wisdom of the old,
 The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
 The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
 Law is the senses of the young.

 Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
 Expounding to an unpriestly people,
 Law is the words in my priestly book,
 Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

 Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
 Speaking clearly and most severely,
 Law is as I've told you before,
 Law is as you know I suppose,
 Law is but let me explain it once more,
 Law is The Law.

 Yet law-abiding scholars write:
 Law is neither wrong nor right,
 Law is only crimes
 Punished by places and by times,
 Law is the clothes men wear
 Anytime, anywhere,
 Law is Good morning and Good night.

 Others say, Law is our Fate;
 Others say, Law is our State;
 Others say, others say
 Law is no more,
 Law has gone away.

 And always the loud angry crowd,
 Very angry and very loud,
 Law is We,
 And always the soft idiot softly Me.

 If we, dear, know we know no more
 Than they about the Law,
 If I no more than you
 Know what we should and should not do
 Except that all agree
 Gladly or miserably
 That the Law is
 And that all know this
 If therefore thinking it absurd
 To identify Law with some other word,
 Unlike so many men
 I cannot say Law is again,

 No more than they can we suppress
 The universal wish to guess
 Or slip out of our own position
 Into an unconcerned condition.
 Although I can at least confine
 Your vanity and mine
 To stating timidly
 A timid similarity,
 We shall boast anyway:
 Like love I say.

 Like love we don't know where or why,
 Like love we can't compel or fly,
 Like love we often weep,
 Like love we seldom keep.
-- W H Auden
In response to Michelle's call for poems about lawyers and the law, here's
one of my favourite Auden poems. Aside from the usual Auden brilliance (the
tone so nonchalantly conversational, the seemingly endless ability to carry
on with a single metaphor) this poem has always been special to me for three
reasons. First, that unlike many Auden poems this one comes to its "timid
similarity" right at the very end, so that having chuckled through the poem
once you are almost compelled to go back to the beginning and read it
through again, this time replacing Law with Love and realising how truly
brilliant the comparison is.

Second, that it's a poem that cries to be read aloud - even reading it in
one's head every stanza has it's own 'voice' creating an incredible
impression of movement as one jumps breathlessly from one person's
view--point to another's.

And finally, for a gem of a last line - one that both makes you laugh and
makes you want to cry with a terrible longing for our lost loves.  In a poem
that is otherwise fairly cheerful it introduces a note of honest grief, that
lifts the poem above the merely clever.

Aseem Kaul

49 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Alan S Kornheiser said...

Also one of my favorites. But surely it cries out for the cross-reference
already posted in the archives: "Lay your sleeping head my love."

Anonymous said...

top class poem

Anonymous said...

Well, first, it's not a metaphor but a simile (a comparison with "like" or "as." But it is also a poem that begs for a third interlocutor, and I'd place desire in the mix. Inevitably, the law's regulations fluctuate, although they claim a stable and knowing opposite. Love also has a similar instability and a similar claim. What links them is the desire to be other than what they are, and our desire to award them their claims.

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Ms_Affy said...

This is a nice poem. Keep up the good work.

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