Saturday, September 01, 2012

September 1, 2012

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.

~ W.H. Auden (September 1, 1939)


Lisa said...

Auden was wonderful -- thank you for sharing and reminding us. I love his last two stanzas most (though they do not exist alone, tho' they could.)

FDChief said...

Oddly, Lisa, I thought of this in part because I feel so many of the same sentiments this year; not the danger of rampant fascist war, mind you, but the sense that sitting at my table on the street listening to the figurative newsboys cry the latest idiotic political brouhaha that forms our political "discourse"...while a tenth of my nation is out of work and likely to remain so, while my nation seems to be sliding carelessly back into the smaller, meaner ways of the Gilded Age...

I feel under siege, and without much of Auden's hope of that affirming flame.

Lisa said...

Well, you possess the "voice" of which Auden spoke.

Perhaps it has always been the game to discombobulate the people, "Lest we should see where we are."

Waking up happens one by one, I'm afraid; slow, that, but when an activation energy is reached by a plurality, maybe then a cohesive change for the betterment of mankind (or at least, one's own nation) might occur.

FDChief said...

My fear, Lisa, is that given the way our nation seems to be moving, that the activation energy will turn instead to finding the Man on Horseback. We seem in many ways like the Germans of the Thirties; cynical, mean-spirited, demoralized, unsure of our own strength and unwilling to trust the "others". I can easily see a demagogue using some atrocious incident to ride this combination of public anger, sloth, and ignorance into power.

Lisa said...

I cannot argue with your view of a possible future, as I see the mean-spiritedness which is the human hallmark all 'round.

It doesn't seem to take much to fan those flames.