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In Time of War, XII -- W H Auden

Guest poem submitted by J. Goard:
(Poem #913) In Time of War, XII
 And the age ended, and the last deliverer died.
 In bed, grown idle and unhappy; they were safe:
 The sudden shadow of the giant's enormous calf
 Would fall no more at dusk across the lawn outside.

 They slept in peace: in marshes here and there no doubt
 A sterile dragon lingered to a natural death,
 But in a year the spoor had vanished from the heath;
 The kobold's knocking in the mountain petered out.

 Only the sculptors and the poets were half sad,
 And the pert retinue from the magician's house
 Grumbled and went elsewhere. The vanished powers were glad

 To be invisible and free: without remorse
 Struck down the sons who strayed their course,
 And ravished the daughters, and drove the fathers mad.
-- W H Auden
The relevance of this poem to today's climate hardly needs mention, although
I suspect that, depending upon one's own viewpoint, it could be interpreted
in different ways.  This is the final sonnet from "In Time of War", looking
forward to an extended period of peace in Europe after WWII, not with
celebration but with warning.  The metaphor of ancient mythical monsters
reinforces our feeling that this cycle has been going since the beginning of
time.

The alexandrine (iambic hexameter) isn't used very often these days, and in
fact it's even difficult to find decent examples from the past.  As Auden's
sonnet shows, however, the alexadrine isn't merely a curiosity, but a
vibrant form.  In my opinion, very few lines of pentameter flow as smoothly
and somberly as the second quatrain does here.  Most interesting is the
unexpected shift in the final two lines, to tetrameter and pentameter. When
I read this out loud, my feeling is a swift violence in line 13 and then,
reinforcing the theme, a feeling that the pace of life has changed. About as
good an example as you'll find of form matching content.

--JG--

[Minstrels Links]

W. H. Auden:
Poem #50, In Memory of W. B. Yeats
Poem #68, Musee des Beaux Arts
Poem #256, Funeral Blues
Poem #307, Lay your sleeping head, my love
Poem #371, O What Is That Sound
Poem #386, The Unknown Citizen
Poem #427, The Two
Poem #491, Roman Wall Blues
Poem #494, The Fall of Rome
Poem #618, The More Loving One
Poem #677, Villanelle
Poem #708, Five Songs - II
Poem #728, from The Dog Beneath the Skin
Poem #762, Miranda
Poem #868, Partition
Poem #889, September 1, 1939
Poem #895, August 1968

21 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Rand Hirschi said...

In W.H. Auden, Collected Poems, Edward Mendelson, Ed. (Vintage
International, 1991), which may be regarded as the final form of
Auden's poems, this one, collected as "X" in the cycle "Sonnets from
China," uses an indefinite article in several expressions where the
version set out here uses the definite. For me, this increases the
tone of sadness and nostalgia in the first three stanzas and
heightens the contrast with the definite, violent images in the last
three lines. Here are the lines from Collected Poems that vary from
the version here:

1. So an age ended, and its last deliverer died

3. . . . of a giant's enormous calf

4. . . . across their lawns outside.

7. But in a year the slot had vanished . . .

8. A kobold's knocking

9. . . . half-sad,

13. Struck down the silly sons who strayed into their course,

R. Hirschi

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