One of Auden’s more challenging but also most remarkable poems is “Under Sirius”, written as a response to medieval Latin poet Fortunatus who, by Auden’s account, longed for humanity to experience some sort of tragedy to shake them to their senses. Auden’s inspiration came from the time known as the “dog days”, associated with the star Sirius, in which long, languid and hot days seemed to Auden’s Fortunatus to be symptoms of the inner death of humanity. If you are living in Melbourne, you may be better able to relate to a season which can’t make up its mind, which shifts from spring to autumn to winter and back to spring again, all in the space of a few days. So I have used this Melburnian weather pattern as the starting point for my poem.
Indecisive Spring (After W.H. Auden’s “Under Sirius”) Would your hope make sense If today were that moment of silence, Before it break and drown…? (W.H. Auden, “Under Sirius”) Now, of course, we wend our way through changing days: The sun peers sometimes out of wind And rain and autumn cling to spring’s façade. Sun-bakers in Apollo-worship find Their hopes flit and dance extempore around; Listen, listen, the silent sound Of spring weaves in with leaves falling, Disappointment swept up in langour And our summer dreams ever calling. If this is that moment of silence, it hangs between The dog star and our torpid sun: A quiet emptiness, a vacuum, saying, revealing nothing. Days pass and fade, not yet begun, And, sagging into wounded land and sea, The Fisher King bleeds his ancient reverie; Thunder mutters petulant And you, Fortunatus, shake your head At clouds both wise and arrogant. Indecision creeps to the table; the meal eats itself; Still the family sings and curtains sway Into the sun long, long ago set. And should we forget, in our vaporous way, Who we are and what we should be, The seasons too may fail to see That all things wend their changing course Yet lead soon back to always-here. Will you, then, be watching as The truths behind the languor finally appear? Your answer dangles limp in the clouds, No reason for these rhyme-and-riddle seasons. Never fear: should spring slip into winter now, Nonetheless the sun commits no treason. Our orbit weaves elliptical as it’s always done And time will know for sure what we’ve become: Children who forgot to thank the hands That shaped our dust and gave it lips And made our ever-circling souls to stand.