by W. H. Auden

W. H. Auden

If the hill overlooking our city has always been known as Adam's
Grave, only at dusk can you see the recumbent giant, his head turned
to the west, his right arm resting for ever on Eve's haunch,

can you learn, from the way he looks up at the scandalous pair,
what a citizen really thinks of his citizenship,

just as now you can hear in a drunkard's caterwaul his rebel sor-
rows erying for a parental discipline, in lustful eyes perceive a dis-
consolate soul,

scanning with desperation all passing limbs tor some vestige of
her faceless angel who in that long ago when wishing was a help
mounted her once and vanished:

For Sun and Moon supply their contorming masks, but in this
hour of civil twilight all must wear their own taces.

And it is now that our two paths cross.

Both simultaneously recognize his Anti-type: that I am an Arca-
dian, that he is a Utopian.

He notes, with contempt, my Aquarian belly: I note, with alarm,
his Scorpion's mouth.

He would like to see me cleaning latrines: I would like to see him
removed to some other planet.

Neither speaks. What experience could we possibly share?

Glancing at a lampshade in a store window, l observe it is too
hideous for anyone in their senses to buy: He observes it is too
expensive for a peasant to buy.

Passing a slum child with rickets, I look the other way: He looks
the other way it he passes a chubby one.

I hope our senators will behave like saints, provided they don't
reform me: He hopes they will behave like baritoni cattivi, and,
when lights burn late in the Citadel,

I (who have never seen the inside of a police station) am shocked
and think: "Were the city as free as they say, after sundown all her
bureaus would be huge black stones.":

He (who has been beaten up several times) is not shocked at all
but thinks: "One fine night our boys will be working up there."

You can see, then, why, between my Eden and his New
Jerusalem, no treaty is negotiable.

In my Eden a person who dislikes Bellini has the good manners
not to get born: In his New Jerusalem a person who dislikes work
will be very sorry he was born.

In my Eden we have a few beam-engines, saddle-tank locomotives,
overshot waterwheels and other beautiful pieces of obsolete machin-
ery to play with: In his New Jerusalem even chefs will be cucumber
cool machine minders.

In my Eden our only source of political news is gossip: In his New
Jerusalem there will be a special daily in simplified spelling for non-
verbal types.

In my Eden each observes his compulsive rituals and superstitious
tabus but we have no morals: In his New Jerusalem the temples will
be empty but al will practice the rational virtues.

One reason for his contempt is that I have only to close my eyes,
cross the iron footbridge to the tow-path, take the barge through the
short brick tunnel and

there I stand in Eden again, welcomed back by the krumhorns,
doppions, sordumes of jolly miners and a bob major from the Cathe-
dral (romanesque) of St. Sophie (Die Kalte):

One reason for my alarm is that, when he closes his eyes, he
arrives, not in New Jerusalem, but on some august day of outrage
when hellikins cavort through ruined drawing-rooms and hsh-wives
intervene in the Chamber or

some autumn night of delations and noyades when the unrepen-
tant thieves (including me) are sequestered and those he hates shall
hate themselves instead.

So with a passing glance we take the other's posture: Already our
steps recede, heading, incorrigible each, towards his kind of meal and

Was it (as it must look to any god of cross-roads) simply a fortu-
itous intersection of life-paths, loyal to different fibs,

or also a rendezvous between accomplices who, in spite of them-
selves, cannot resist meeting

to remind the other (do both, at bottom, desire truth?) of that half
of their secret which he would most like to forget,

torcing us both, tor a fraction of a second, to remember our vic-
tim (but for him I could forget the blood, but for me he could forget
the innocence)

on whose immolation (call him Abel, Remus, whom you will, it is
one Sin Offering) arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy,
are alike founded:

For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be
innocent) no secular wall will safely stand.

(June 1954)

Last updated February 11, 2023