Doggerel by a Senior Citizen
by W. H. Auden
(for Robert Lederer)
Our earth in 1969
Is not the planet I call mine,
The world, I mean, that gives me strength
To hold off chaos at arm's length.
My Eden landscapes and their climes
Are constructs from Edwardian times,
When bath-rooms took up lots of space,
And, before eating, one said Grace.
The automobile, the aeroplane,
Are useful gadgets, but profane:
The enginry of which I dream
Is moved by water or by steam.
Reason requires that I approve
The light-bulb which I cannot love:
To me more reverence-commanding
A fish-tail burner on the landing.
My family ghosts I fought and routed,
Their values, though, I never doubted:
I thought the Protestant Work-Ethic
Both practical and sympathetic.
When couples played or sang duets,
It was immoral to have debts:
I shall continue till I die
To pay in cash for what I buy.
The Book of Common Prayer we knew
Was that of 1662:
Though with-it sermons may be well,
Liturgical reforms are hell.
Sex was of course -- it always is --
The most enticing of mysteries,
But news-stands did not then supply
Then Speech was mannerly, an Art,
Like learning not to belch or fart:
I cannot settle which is worse,
The Anti-Novel or Free Verse.
Nor are those Ph.D's my kith,
Who dig the symbol and the myth:
I count myself a man of letters
Who writes, or hopes to, for his betters.
Dare any call Permissiveness
An educational success?
Saner those class-rooms which I sat in,
Compelled to study Greek and Latin.
Though I suspect the term is crap,
There is a Generation Gap,
Who is to blame? Those, old or young,
Who will not learn their Mother-Tongue.
But Love, at least, is not a state
Either en vogue or out-of-date,
And I've true friends, I will allow,
To talk and eat with here and now.
Me alienated? Bosh! It's just
As a sworn citizen who must
Skirmish with it that I feel
Most at home with what is Real.
e looked in all His wisdom from the throne
Down on that humble boy who kept the sheep,
And sent a dove; the dove returned alone:
Our hunting fathers told the story
Of the sadness of the creatures,
Pitied the limits and the lack
When shall we learn, what should be clear as day,
We cannot choose what we are free to love?
Although the mouse we banished yesterday
When there are so many we shall have to mourn,
when grief has been made so public, and exposed
to the critique of a whole epoch
"O where are you going?" said reader to rider,
"That valley is fatal where furnaces burn,
Yonder's the midden whose odours will madden,
Encased in talent like a uniform,
The rank of every poet is well known;
They can amaze us like a thunderstorm,
Around them boomed the rhetoric of time,
The smells and furniture of the known world
Where conscience worshipped an aesthetic order
Underneath the leaves of life,
Green on the prodigious tree,
In a trance of grief
Being set on the idea
Of getting to Atlantis,
You have discovered of course
Fish in the unruffled lakes
Their swarming colors wear,
Swans in the winter air
Taller to-day, we remember similar evenings,
Walking together in a windless orchard
Where the brook runs over the gravel, far from the
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
Out of a bellicose fore-time, thundering
head-on collisions of cloud and rock in an
up-thrust, crevasse-and-avalanche, troll country,
This is the night mail crossing the Border,
Bringing the cheque and the postal order,
Letters for the rich, letters for the poor,
My dear one is mine as mirrors are lonely,
As the poor and sad are real to the good king,
And the high green hill sits always by the sea.
Clocks cannot tell our time of day
For what event to pray
Because we have no time, because
Ours yet not ours, being set apart
As a shrine to friendship,
Empty and silent most of the year,
Ares at last has quit the field,
The bloodstains on the bushes yield
To seeping showers,