Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.
Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.
In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew;
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.
The consul banged the table and said:
‘If you’ve got no passport, you’re officially dead’;
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.
Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go today, my dear, but where shall we go today?
Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said:
‘If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread’;
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.
Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying: ‘They must die’;
We were in his mind, my dear, we were in his mind.
Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.
Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.
Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.
Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors;
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.
Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.
by Wystan Hugh Auden (1939)
Very appropriate words for this time.ReplyDelete
They capture the sense of impotence.Delete
The second line breaks my heart.ReplyDelete
Do you mean the second stanza? Those lines have been in my head since I was seventeen.Delete
There is a poem by Dannie Abse I cannot find in his New & Collected Poems, 1948-2014: *Ask the Moon*.Delete
I quote from moth-eaten memory:
What is the name of that country I once said I'd visit when older?
Can no one tell me its name?
Born in Cardiff in 1923, Dannie Abse wrote four memorable prose works:
Ash on a Young Man's Sleeve.
A Poet in the Family.
Goodbye, Twentieth Century.
The latter looked back on the death of his wife Joan in a road accident in which he was himself injured.
Dannie Abse was a doctor, a consultant on lung disease, and the brother of Leo Abse, Labour M.P. for Pontypool for almost 30 years.
This is so sad.ReplyDelete
A lament so often repeated.Delete
Auden was very well informed in such early days as 1939, although obviously much had happened before war was declared.ReplyDelete
I agree. There's a strong sense of what is about to happen.Delete
Wow. That really got to me. Not only is history repeating itself (when will we ever learn from our mistakes?) but also my own family on my father's side were refugees from Nazi Germany and precisely in this predicament. Seeing it unfold in the Ukraine now brings it home to me what my ancestors actually went through.ReplyDelete
I am so pleased that sharing this poem struck a poignant chord in your mind ADDY.Delete
I wonder if the Russian refugees fleeing into Finland are singing the same tune?ReplyDelete
I rather suspect that they are Ed. Putin is destroying the Russia they knew.Delete
Great poet YP. I like Stop The Clocks and Night Mail.ReplyDelete
He was good with words and ideas too.Delete
Not in falling snow but in rainy sunlight, I once stood in a street in York, before a plaque:ReplyDelete
*Wystan Hugh Auden, poet, was born in this house on the 21st. February 1907.*
See online, York Civic Trust.
The world is always in crisis, war is hell on earth.
*September 1, 1939* by W.H. Auden poet.org.
Auden was sitting in a smoky bar on Fifty-second Street, New York, when war was declared over the radio.
*September 1, 1939: A Biography of a Poem* by Ian Sansom is now in paperback.
He saw what was happening before most of his peers and he felt it in the deep heart's core.Delete
*Why W.H. Auden Hated His Most Famous Political Poems.*Delete
Michael Weiss. Daily Beast.
Auden never joined the Communist Party so he never became a shill for Stalin, and he woke up to Communist atrocities in the Spanish Civil War.
Did Auden know how much the Front Populaire was infiltrated by Stalin's agents?
You had to spend a lot of time at these meetings to see how decent men and women who opposed Fascism were betrayed by Moscow's moles.
Think of the honesty of Albert Camus in the post-war period, and what a beating he got from the poisonous French Left when he received the Nobel.
*The Mask of Albert Camus.* Paul de Man. New York Review.
Incidentally there is a novel about the young Auden in Scotland.
*Larchfield* by Polly Clark is now in paperback.
Auden was in Helensburgh teaching.
I've never read that poem. It's incredibly powerful in its sweet endearments. It says so much.ReplyDelete
On behalf of Mr Auden, may I thank you for taking the trouble to read and absorb this poem?Delete
When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn...ReplyDelete
Where have all the flowers gone?Delete
For whatever reason, over the last two years, I've found myself reading novels about WW2 and the horrors of the holocaust. The question that continues to confound me is how the rest of the world allowed this to happen. Now, here we are again. This time, however, we can't pretend not to know what is happening to innocent people. We're seeing it! I hope countries that have the power to help, do everything they can this time...while also avoiding a nuclear war.ReplyDelete
I wish someone would be brave enough to assassinate Putin. Then maybe there would a chance to move on from this horror.Delete
I don't know this poem but it certainly is powerful and pertinent.ReplyDelete
In behalf of W.H.Auden, thanks for reading it Steve.Delete
I don't remember reading this poem before. I'll admit, as I began I thought it was one of yours!ReplyDelete
I have a friend who had to leave Sudetenland. She taught me things I never learned in school.
I shake my head in despair. What is that prick Putin hoping to achieve?Delete
I've never managed to come to terms with Auden but it doesn't stop me appreciating the sentiment behind the words you have quoted.ReplyDelete
Good on you for giving Auden another crack of the whip Graham.Delete
Tears are running down my face as I read this poem written so long ago. Humanity! Where in the world ...... My bones are chilled and my brain almost cannot function as I weep for humanity.ReplyDelete
Here. Take my cotton handkerchief Ms Donna. It's clean.Delete
A poignant poem.ReplyDelete
No, we never seem to learn. History repeats itself yet again and again, and this century has already seen so many refugees.
You would have thought that emerging from a deadly pandemic, humanity would have stuck together for a while.Delete
Whilst we are still reeling from the after effects of the pandemic, Putin has seen it as chance to begin aggression against those countries he intends to subdue.Delete
Will he stop at the Ukraine?
I thought this was one of your poems as well. The more things change, the more they remain the same. I wonder what the world will look like in a month, in a year. It's frightening and somber and heartbreaking.ReplyDelete
Maybe I should write a poem with Ukraine in mind.Delete