W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Christopher Isherwood, at Sellin on the island of Ruegen, 1931 (b/w photo) - Photograph taken by Stephen Spender using his camera self-timer. Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-73), English poet; Stephen Spender (1909-95), English poet and novelist; Christopher Isherwood (1904-86), English novelist; (private collection)
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.
I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain and afraid As the clever hopes expire Of a low dishonest decade: Waves of anger and fear Circulate over the bright And darkened lands of the earth, Obsessing our private lives; The unmentionable odour of death Offends the September night.
Accurate scholarship can Unearth the whole offence From Luther until now That has driven a culture mad, Find what occurred at Linz, What huge imago made A psychopathic god: I and the public know What all schoolchildren learn, Those to whom evil is done Do evil in return.
Exiled Thucydides knew All that a speech can say About Democracy, And what dictators do, The elderly rubbish they talk To an apathetic grave; Analysed all in his book, The enlightenment driven away, The habit-forming pain, Mismanagement and grief: We must suffer them all again.
Into this neutral air Where blind skyscrapers use Their full height to proclaim The strength of Collective Man, Each language pours its vain Competitive excuse: But who can live for long In an euphoric dream; Out of the mirror they stare, Imperialism’s face And the international wrong.
Faces along the bar Cling to their average day: The lights must never go out, The music must always play, All the conventions conspire To make this fort assume The furniture of home; Lest we should see where we are, Lost in a haunted wood, Children afraid of the night Who have never been happy or good.
The windiest militant trash Important Persons shout Is not so crude as our wish: What mad Nijinsky wrote About Diaghilev Is true of the normal heart; For the error bred in the bone Of each woman and each man Craves what it cannot have, Not universal love But to be loved alone.
From the conservative dark Into the ethical life The dense commuters come, Repeating their morning vow; “I will be true to the wife, I’ll concentrate more on my work," And helpless governors wake To resume their compulsory game: Who can release them now, Who can reach the deaf, Who can speak for the dumb?
All I have is a voice To undo the folded lie, The romantic lie in the brain Of the sensual man-in-the-street And the lie of Authority Whose buildings grope the sky: There is no such thing as the State And no one exists alone; Hunger allows no choice To the citizen or the police; We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night Our world in stupor lies; Yet, dotted everywhere, Ironic points of light Flash out wherever the Just Exchange their messages: May I, composed like them Of Eros and of dust, Beleaguered by the same Negation and despair, Show an affirming flame.
E escreveu um magnífico poema em 1939, usando como título a data da invasão da Polónia pela Alemanha. Hoje quando dizemos assim nomes de países, refinámos a guerra para os mercados da finança ou para os campos da bola, mas o poema continua a ser avassalador, como a boa poesia costuma ser, em qualquer momento.
september 1, 1939
i sit in one of the dives on fifty-second street uncertain and afraid as the clever hopes expire of a low dishonest decade: waves of anger and fear circulate over the bright and darkened lands of the earth, obsessing our private lives; the unmentionable odour of death offends the september night.
accurate scholarship can unearth the whole offence from luther until now that has driven a culture mad, find what occurred at linz, what huge imago made a psychopathic god: i and the public know what all schoolchildren learn, those to whom evil is done do evil in return.
exiled thucydides knew all that a speech can say about democracy, and what dictators do, the elderly rubbish they talk to an apathetic grave; analysed all in his book, the enlightenment driven away, the habit-forming pain, mismanagement and grief: we must suffer them all again.
into this neutral air where blind skyscrapers use their full height to proclaim the strength of collective man, each language pours its vain competitive excuse: but who can live for long in an euphoric dream; out of the mirror they stare, imperialism’s face and the international wrong.
faces along the bar cling to their average day: the lights must never go out, the music must always play, all the conventions conspire to make this fort assume the furniture of home; lest we should see where we are, lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night who have never been happy or good.
the windiest militant trash important persons shout is not so crude as our wish: what mad nijinsky wrote about diaghilev is true of the normal heart; for the error bred in the bone of each woman and each man craves what it cannot have, not universal love but to be loved alone.
from the conservative dark into the ethical life the dense commuters come, repeating their morning vow; “i will be true to the wife, i’ll concentrate more on my work,” and helpless governors wake to resume their compulsory game: who can release them now, who can reach the deaf, who can speak for the dumb?
all i have is a voice to undo the folded lie, the romantic lie in the brain of the sensual man-in-the-street and the lie of authority whose buildings grope the sky: there is no such thing as the state and no one exists alone; hunger allows no choice to the citizen or the police; we must love one another or die.
defenceless under the night our world in stupor lies; yet, dotted everywhere, ironic points of light flash out wherever the just exchange their messages: may i, composed like them of eros and of dust, beleaguered by the same negation and despair, show an affirming flame.
"O who can ever gaze his fill," Farmer and fisherman say, "On native shore and local hill, Grudge aching limb or callus on the hand? Father, grandfather stood upon this land, And here the pilgrims from our loins will stand." So farmer and fisherman say In their fortunate hey-day: But Death's low answer drifts across Empty catch or harvest loss Or an unlucky May. The earth is an oyster with nothing inside it, Not to be born is the best for man; The end of toil is a bailiff's order, Throw down the mattock and dance while you can.
"O life's too short for friends who share," Travellers think in their hearts, "The city's common bed, the air, The mountain bivouac and the bathing beach, Where incidents draw every day from each Memorable gesture and witty speech." So travellers think in their hearts, Till malice or circumstance parts Them from their constant humour: And slyly Death's coercive rumour In that moment starts. A friend is the old old tale of Narcissus, Not to be born is the best for man; An active partner in something disgraceful, Change your partner, dance while you can.
"O stretch your hands across the sea," The impassioned lover cries, "Stretch them towards your harm and me. Our grass is green, and sensual our brief bed, The stream sings at its foot, and at its head The mild and vegetarian beasts are fed." So the impassioned lover cries Till the storm of pleasure dies: From the bedpost and the rocks Death's enticing echo mocks, And his voice replies. The greater the love, the more false to its object, Not to be born is the best for man; After the kiss comes the impulse to throttle, Break the embraces, dance while you can.
"I see the guilty world forgiven," Dreamer and drunkard sing, "The ladders let down out of heaven, The laurel springing from the martyr's blood, The children skipping where the weeper stood, The lovers natural and the beasts all good." So dreamer and drunkard sing Till day their sobriety bring: Parrotwise with Death's reply From whelping fear and nesting lie, Woods and their echoes ring. The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews, Not to be born is the best for man; The second-best is a formal order, The dance's pattern; dance while you can.
Dance, dance for the figure is easy, The tune is catching and will not stop; Dance till the stars come down from the rafters; Dance, dance, dance till you drop.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone. Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, Silence the pianos and with muffled drum Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead, Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves, Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one, Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun. Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood; For nothing now can ever come to any good."
II O the valley in the summer where I and my John Beside the deep river would walk on and on While the flowers at our feet and the birds up above Argued so sweetly on reciprocal love, And I leaned on his shoulder; 'O Johnny, let's play': But he frowned like thunder and he went away.
O that Friday near Christmas as I well recall When we went to the Charity Matinee Ball, The floor was so smooth and the band was so loud And Johnny so handsome I felt so proud; 'Squeeze me tighter, dear Johnny, let's dance till it's day': But he frowned like thunder and he went away.
Shall I ever forget at the Grand Opera When music poured out of each wonderful star? Diamonds and pearls they hung dazzling down Over each silver and golden silk gown; 'O John I'm in heaven,' I whispered to say:
But he frowned like thunder and he went away.
O but he was fair as a garden in flower, As slender and tall as the great Eiffel Tower, When the waltz throbbed out on the long promenade O his eyes and his smile they went straight to my heart; 'O marry me, Johnny, I'll love and obey': But he frowned like thunder and he went away.
O last night I dreamed of you, Johnny, my lover, You'd the sun on one arm and the moon on the other, The sea it was blue and the grass it was green, Every star rattled a round tambourine; Ten thousand miles deep in a pit there I lay: But you frowned like thunder and you went away.