I did not see them go there with their flame
to burn the city’s heart, the city’s bones.
I did not see the past fall down in ash
or hear the cries of covenant in pain.
I did not hear the gongs of history clash
or see foe-cities’ gods fight in the square.
Yet in me is a city dead, and groans
of all our cities lost and yet to come.
In all our homes are ghosts, and everywhere
are souls displaced from homes, and everyone
has lost their way from some-where to where-else;
I do not know their places or their ways,
yet in me is the city’s call, the pulse
of beggars in a dust-heap singing praise.
Reading Italo, I see
preparing to swim while
il Duce prepares for war.
At home, on our couch,
while afternoon leisure
blends with our tea,
a reporter speaks
to a background of song:
Australia may soon
be under attack.
The words overlap
with piano and strings
and my mind hears,
I am titanium.
Clouds drift; distant, the birds sing.
The courtyard sunk in silence sits.
Somewhere cars continue the day,
and floating in the distance thoughts
of mateship dearly bought, and peace
woven where no need for war
had driven us to foreign shores,
repeat: We shall remember them.
This has no glory, only silence.
And in the silence fit
a thousand thoughts and prayers,
a million unremembered things,
a cove too far away.
At the going down of the sun – remember.
Remember the dawn and the children who lied,
the stories we told to justify.
Remember the lines that we drew in soil,
and the poppies in fields, dancing peace.
Lest we forget: a hundred years is short enough
and long enough to twist and deny.
The silence ends. Too soon the bugle calls the flag’s ascent.
Some twist their heads. Some do not know.
Let the children come and hear
the trumpet of no retreat.
These tragedies that war upon the screen,
These day-to-day reminders that all’s sick:
They cut into our vision as we dream
And lie within stale hearts. The silent prick
Of death we can repress, but not the waves
That fight like foes upon our passive shores,
Waging war where war was not. The graves
That time forgot and life always ignores
Call out for us to hear them; yet our towns
Lie sleepy in the certainty that fate
Always befalls another (volume down,
Lest we remember; best that we forget).
Were men to blame when Siloam’s tower fell?
In this: our hearts have helped to fashion Hell.
As October draws to a close, it’s time for an essay to draw together our month spent with W.H. Auden. He is a controversial figure in Christian poetry, and so this essay comes with a minor warning that it may not be to everyone’s reading taste. But he is, I think, still a rewarding poet to look at, for all his weaknesses and for some of the problems that he presents as a Christian writer. I hope that you all find it an interesting read.
W.H. Auden – Undoing the Folded Lie