Old People's Home

All are limitory, but each has her own
nuance of damage.  The elite can dress and decent themselves,
   are ambulant with a single stick, adroit
to read a book all through, or play the slow movements of
   easy sonatas. (Yet, perhaps their very
carnal freedom is their spirit’s bane: intelligent
   of what has happened and why, they are obnoxious
to a glum beyond tears.)  Then come those on wheels, the average
   majority, who endure T.V. and, led by
lenient therapists, do community-singing, then
   the loners, muttering in Limbo, and last
the terminally incompetent, as improvident,
   unspeakable, impeccable as the plants
they parody. (Plants may sweat profusely but never
   sully themselves.)  One tie, though, unites them: all
appeared when the world, though much was awry there, was more
   spacious, more comely to look at, it’s Old Ones
with an audience and secular station.  Then a child,
   in dismay with Mamma, could refuge with Gran
to be revalued and told a story.  As of now,
   we all know what to expect, but their generation
is the first to fade like this, not at home but assigned
   to a numbered frequent ward, stowed out of conscience
as unpopular luggage.
                                      As I ride the subway
   to spend half-an-hour with one, I revisage
who she was in the pomp and sumpture of her hey-day,
   when week-end visits were a presumptive joy,
not a good work.  Am I cold to wish for a speedy
   painless dormition, pray, as I know she prays,
that God or Nature will abrupt her earthly function?
Other works by W. H. Auden...