Week 216: Their Lonely Betters, by W.H.Auden

There seems to be a general view that the work of the later, postwar Auden is marked by a decline in poetic power. I can see that it has its wobbles, but I think there were also gains: a move towards greater lucidity, towards writing less for a coterie audience and more for the only audience really worth having, the company of free spirits throughout time. I like, for example, this poem, written in 1950, in which Auden characteristically combines a light touch with a serious thought.

As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.

A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.

Not one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.

Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.

W.H.Auden

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