W. H. Auden

What we know to be not possible,

Though time after time foretold

By wild hermits, by shaman and sybil

Gibbering in their trances,

Or revealed to a child in some chance rhyme

Like will and kill, comes to pass

Before we realize it: we are surprised

At the ease and speed of our deed

And uneasy: It is barely three,

Mid-afternoon, yet the blood

Of our sacrifice is already

Dry on the grass; we are not prepared

For silence so sudden and so soon;

The day is too hot, too bright, too still,

Too ever, the dead remains too nothing.

What shall we do till nightfall?


The wind has dropped and we have lost our public.

The faceless many who always

Collect when any world is to be wrecked,

Blown up, burnt down, cracked open,

Felled, sawn in two, hacked through, torn apart,

Have all melted away: not one

Of these who in the shade of walls and trees

Lie sprawled now, calmly sleeping,

Harmless as sheep, can remember why

He shouted or what about

So loudly in the sunshine this morning;

All if challenged would reply

-‘It was a monster with one red eye,

A crowd that saw him die, not I.-

The hangman has gone to wash, the soldiers to eat;

We are left alone with our feat.


The Madonna with the green woodpecker,

The Madonna of the fig-tree,

The Madonna beside the yellow dam,

Turn their kind faces from us

And our projects under construction,

Look only in one direction,

Fix their gaze on our completed work:

Pile-driver, concrete-mixer,

Crane and pick-axe wait to be used again,

But how can we repeat this?

Outliving our act, we stand where we are,

As disregarded as some

Discarded artifact of our own,

Like torn gloves, rusted kettles,

Abandoned branch-lines, worn lop-sided

Grindstones buried in nettles.

This mutilated flesh, our victim,

Explains too nakedly, too well,

The spell of the asparagus garden,

The aim of our chalk-pit game; stamps,

Birds’ eggs are not the same, behind the wonder

Of tow-paths and sunken lanes,

Behind the rapture on the spiral stair,

We shall always now be aware

Of the deed into which they lead, under

The mock chase and mock capture,

The racing and tussling and splashing,

The panting and the laughter,

Be listening for the cry and stillness

To follow after: wherever

The sun shines, brooks run, books are written,

There will also be this death.


Soon cool tramontana will stir the leaves,

The shops will re-open at four,

The empty blue bus in the empty pink square

Fill up and depart: we have time

To misrepresent, excuse, deny,

Mythify, use this event

While, under a hotel bed, in prison,

Down wrong turnings, its meaning

Waits for our lives: sooner than we would choose

Bread will melt, water will burn,

And the great quell begin, Abaddon

Set up his triple gallows

At our seven gates, fat Belial make

Our wives waltz naked; meanwhile

It would be best to go home, if we have a home,

In any case good to rest.


That our dreaming wills may seem to escape

This dead calm, wander instead

On knife edges, on black and white squares,

Across moss, baize, velvet, boards,

Over cracks and hillocks, in mazes

Of string and penitent cones,

Down granite ramps and damp passages,

Through gates that will not relatch

And doors marked Private, pursued by Moors

And watched by latent robbers,

To hostile villages at the heads of fjords,

To dark chateaux where wind sobs

In the pine-trees and telephones ring,

Inviting trouble, to a room,

Lit by one weak bulb, where our Double sits

Writing and does not look up.


That, while we are thus away, our own wronged flesh

May work undisturbed, restoring

The order we try to destroy, the rhythm

We spoil out of spite: valves close

And open exactly, glands secrete,

Vessels contract and expand

At the right moment, essential fluids

Flow to renew exhausted cells,

Not knowing quite what has happened, but awed

By death like all the creatures

Now watching this spot, like the hawk looking down

Without blinking, the smug hens

Passing close by in their pecking order,

The bug whose view is balked by grass.

Or the deer who shyly from afar

Peer through chinks in the forest.

Horae canonicae, Immolatus vicerit (Prima, Tertia, Sextia, Nona, Vesperae, Completarium, Laudae)

Pešč, 11.07.2011.