Love poems you wish you had written 2015 #2 – W.H. Auden

220px-AudenVanVechten1939For the second of my posts, specially written as we approach St Valentine’s Day, I focus on a poem by W.H. Auden. Anyone who has seen Four Weddings and a Funeral will know the poem which starts ‘Stop all the clocks…’, so movingly read by John Hannah at the funeral of his dead partner, played by Simon Callow. It is chokingly good, and bitterly sad.

However, for this week, as requested by historian Jessica Meyer on Twitter, I am reproducing another great love lyric by Auden – Lullaby. Sometimes referred to by the first line ‘Lay your sleeping head my love…’ it is about time passing, the inevitable fading of beauty and the enduring nature of love. Auden was born in 1907 and is now regarded as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.  He was a great poetic technician, but also wrote remarkable prose on profound topics. He is a poet I love to read, although I have never studied his work in depth. So I simply respond, and in this poem I like the way a classic meditation on love is subverted – most particularly by the lover’s ‘faithless’ arm. Is this a reference to atheistic beliefs? Is this about a night spent making love to someone other than the poet’s regular partner (with a further reference to fidelity in the third stanza)? Or is it simply a recognition that we are all frail, imperfect human beings when it comes to love and that in that moment there is no-one more entirely beautiful and adored than the sleeping lover? What do you think?

Lullaby
W. H. Auden, (1907 – 1973)

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 carnal 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 welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

Again, I have found a reading  – sometimes it helps to hear a poem read aloud (although I always like to read it to myself, under my breath or out loud and proud if I am alone in the house!) and this version is accompanied by some sweet music. I would love to know what you think, and as always do let me know your own favourite poems.

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This entry was posted in Books, Literature, love the universe and everything, Poetry, Random musings on family life, Reading, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Love poems you wish you had written 2015 #2 – W.H. Auden

  1. Another great choice, Suzie! And I really like that reading. You already know how much I love “Funeral Blues,” and I really do like the multiplicity of meaning in the faithless arm here. “Watched by every human love.” What’s not to love here? 🙂

  2. Pingback: Love Poems You Wish You had Written #2–Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” | The Dad Poet

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