Like Love (After W.H. Auden’s “Law, say the gardeners, is the sun”)

The first of our Auden poems for the month is the wonderful “Law, say the gardeners, is the sun”, a poem that Auden wrote in 1939 around the time of his conversion to Christianity. It was famously written shortly after his profound and emphatic “September 1, 1939”, the poem he wrote on the outbreak of WWII. Where that poem made grand statements about how we “must love one another or die”, “Law, say the gardeners” was much more hesitant in tone, yet also had at its heart the same message: that the need to love openly, universally, like God, was the only way to fulfil the law at the heart of humanity. You can read the original poem here – a masterpiece of rhyme, rhythm, form and voice – and below is my response to it.


Like Love (After “Law, say the gardeners, is the sun”)
 
It hurts too much at times to try,
at times it’s easier to hide,
at times we could prefer to look
our faces in the mirror’s book
and tell ourselves that we’ve been wronged.
At times we sing our funeral songs
and make ourselves the martyrs of
our own internal cause.

At times we long for the applause
of those who watch us and declare
that all our castles of thin air
are in this land the fairest.
At times our scarcest victories
lift us up like tallest trees
and give us medals of Great Love.
At times we long for wings of doves
that we may fly away and be
at rest where love cannot be seen.
(At times we soar and leap.)

At times we see fulfilled the Law
which shows us God and our neighbor
as true love’s worthiest objects.
At times that Love takes our rejects,
and all our refuse, all our sport,
and lifts it up in heaven’s court,
the evidence that love has lost,
that none of us can pay the cost,
that only when the arms that formed
the Universe stretch out, love scorned,
and offer up this allegory,
only then can humans see

that love is worth the try
though love must make us die.

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