from in Time of War


So from the years the gifts were showered; each
Ran off with his at once into his life:
Bee took the politics that make a hive,
Fish swam as fish, peach settled into peach.
And were successful at the first endeavour;
The hour of birth their only time at college,
They were content with their precocious knowledge,
And knew their station and were good for ever.
Till finally there came a childish creature
On whom the years could model any feature,
And fake with ease a leopard or a dove;
Who by the lightest wind was changed and shaken,
And looked for truth and was continually mistaken,
Ana envied his few friends and chose his love.


He turned his field into a meeting-place,
And grew the tolerant ironic eye,
And formed the mobile money-changer’s face,
And found the notion of equality.
And strangers were as brothers to his clocks,
And with his spires he made a human sky;
Museums stored his learning like a box,
And paper watched his money like a spy.
It grew so fast his life was overgrown,
And he forgot what once it had been made for,
And gathered into crowds and was alone,
And lived expensively and did without,
And could not find the earth which he had paid for,
Nor feel the love that he knew all about.


The life of man is never quite completed;
The daring and the chatter will go on:
But, as an artist feels his power gone,
These walk the earth and know themselves defeated.
Some could not bear nor break the young and mourn for
The wounded myths that once made nations good,
Some lost a world they never understood,
Some saw too clearly all that man was born for.
Loss is their shadow-wife, Anxiety
Receives them like a grand hotel; but where
They may regret they must; their life, to hear
The call of the forbidden cities, see
The stranger watch them with a happy stare,
And Freedom hostile in each home and tree.


Nothing is given: we must find our law.
Great buildings jostle in the sun for domination;
Behind them stretch like sorry vegetation
The low recessive houses of the poor.
We have no destiny assigned us:
Nothing is certain but the body; we plan
To better ourselves; the hospitals alone remind us
Of the equality of man.
Children are really loved here, even by police:
They speak of years before the big were lonely,
And will be lost.
   And only
The brass bands throbbing in the parks foretell
Some future reign of happiness and peace.
We learn to pity and rebel.
Other works by W. H. Auden...