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The Original Versions of Two of Auden's Most Beloved Poems

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In Memory of W.B. Yeats

I. He disappeared in the dead of winter.
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
O all the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
Far from his illness,
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.
But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumors;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed. He became his admirers.
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities,
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections;
To find his happiness in another kind of wood,
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience:
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
But in the importance and noise of tomorrow,
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day,
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
He was silly like us: His gift survived it all.
O all the instruments agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
II. Earth, receive an honored guest;
William Yeats is laid to rest:
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.
Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives,
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honors at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate.
Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.
Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice.
With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress.
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street 
Uncertain and afraid 
As the clever hopes expire 
Of a low dishonest decade: 
Waves of anger and fear 
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth, 
Obsessing our private lives; 
The unmentionable odor of death 
Offends the September night. 
Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence 
From Luther until now 
That has driven a culture mad, 
Find what occurred at Linz, 
What huge imago made 
A psychopathic god: 
I and the public know 
What all schoolchildren learn, 
Those to whom evil is done 
Do evil in return. 
Exiled Thucydides knew 
All that a speech can say 
About democracy, 
And what dictators do, 
The elderly rubbish they talk 
To an apathetic grave; 
Analysed all in his book, 
The enlightenment driven away, 
The habit-forming pain, 
Mismanagement and grief: 
We must suffer them all again. 
Into this neutral air 
Where blind skyscrapers use 
Their full height to proclaim 
The strength of Collective Man, 
Each language pours its vain 
Competitive excuse; 
But who can live for long 
In an euphoric dream?
Out of the mirror they stare, 
Imperialism's face 
And the international wrong. 
Faces along the bar 
Cling to their average day: 
The lights must never go out, 
The music must always play 
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume 
The furniture of home; 
Lest we should see where we are, 
Lost in a haunted wood, 
Children afraid of the night 
Who have never been happy or good. 
The windiest militant trash 
Important Persons shout 
Is not so crude as our wish: 
What mad Nijinsky wrote 
About Diaghilev 
Is true of the normal heart; 
The error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man 
Craves what it cannot have, 
Not universal love,
But to be loved alone. 
From the conservative dark 
Into the ethical life 
The dense commuters come, 
Repeating their morning vow,
"I will be true to the wife, 
I'll concentrate more on my work," 
And helpless governors wake 
To resume their compulsory game: 
Who can release them now, 
Who can reach the deaf, 
Who can speak for the dumb? 
All I have is a voice 
To undo the folded lie, 
The romantic lie in the brain 
Of the sensual Man-in-the-street 
The lie of Authority 
Whose buildings grope the sky: 
There is no such thing as the State 
And no one exists alone; 
Hunger allows no choice 
To the citizen or the police; 
We must love one another or die. 
Defenceless under the night 
Our world in stupor lies; 
Yet, dotted everywhere, 
Ironic points of light 
Flash out wherever the Just 
Exchange their messages: 
May I, composed like them 
Of Eros and of dust, 
Beleaguered by the same 
Negation and despair, 
Show an affirming flame.