Sunday Poetry – W H Auden

Auden (photo from here) is one of those poets I always feel I should read more of. I have a lovely Folio Society edition of the Shorter Poems which seems like a good place to start. This is a particularly lovely poem, the first verse is so beautifully calm & serene. Does anyone have any Auden favourites to recommend?

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away,
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.


Soul and body have no bounds: 
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit’s sensual ecstasy.


Certainty, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.


Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of sweetness show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness see you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

6 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – W H Auden

  1. “Lay your sleeping head, my love, / Human on my faithless arm”: it sends shivers down the spine, doesn't it? Thank you for sharing that one – gorgeous. I love 'As I walked out one evening' (partly for the way it reworks all the clichés of the theme in a new way).

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  2. I've always admired Musee des Beaux Arts for drawing attention to the truth that suffering “takes place / While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along”. This is a sobering reflection to those of us who might be enjoying our lives right now, given what is going on in Syria, to highlight just one example. Sadly, if we did not allow ourselves to get on with our own lives until there was peace in the world, our lives would permanently be on hold.

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  3. Yes, it's a sad reflection that we often get so caught up in our own lives that we fail to see what's going on in the outside world. As you say, the world will never be perfect so we just have to be as aware as we can be.

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