Saturday, May 07, 2011
W.H. Auden, City Without Walls
..."Those fantastic forms, fang-sharp,
bone-bare, that in Byzantine painting
were a shorthand for the Unbounded
beyond the Pale, unpoliced spaces
where dragons dwelt and demons roamed,
"colonized only by ex-worldlings,
penitent sophists and sodomites,
are visual facts in the foreground now,
real structures of steel and glass:
hermits, perforce, are all to-day,
"with numbered caves in enormous jails,
hotels designed to deteriorate
their glum already-corrupted guests,
factories in which the functional
Hobbesian Man is mass-produced.
"A key to the street each convict has,
but the Asphalt Lands are lawless marches
where gangs clash and cops turn
robber-barons: reckless he
who walks after dark in that wilderness.
"But electric lamps allow nightly
cell-meetings where sub-cultures
may hold palaver, like-minded,
their tongues tattooed by the tribal jargon
of the vice or business that brothers them;
"and mean cafés to remain open,
where in bad air belly-talkers,
may spout unreason, some ruthless creed
to a dozen dupes till dawn break.
"Every work-day Eve fares
forth to the stores her foods to pluck,
while Adam hunts an easy dollar:
unperspiring at eventide
both eat their bread in boredom of spirit.
"The week-end comes that once was holy,
free still, but a feast no longer,
just time out, idiorhythmic,
when no one cares what his neighbor does:
now newsprint and network are needed most.
"What they view may be vulgar rubbish,
what they listen to witless noise,
but it gives shelter, shields them from
Sunday’s Bane, the basilisking
glare of Nothing, our pernicious foe.
"For what to Nothing shall nobodies answer?
Still super-physiques are socially there,
frequently photographed, feel at home,
but ordinary flesh is unwanted:
engines do better what biceps did.
"Quite soon computers may expel from the world
all but the top intelligent few,
the egos they leisure be left to dig
value and virtue from an invisible realm
of hobbies, sex, consumption, vague
"tussles with ghosts. Against Whom
shall the Sons band to rebel there,
where Troll-Father, Tusked-Mother,
are dream-monsters like dinosaurs
with a built-in obsolescence?
"A Gadgeted Age, but as unworldly
as when the faint light filtered down
on the first men in Mirkwood,
waiting their turn at the water-hole
with the magic beasts who made the paths.
Small marvel, then, if many adopt
cancer as the only offered career
worth while, if wards are full of
gents who believe they are Jesus Christ
or guilty of the Unforgiveable Sin:
"if arcadian lawns where classic shoulders,
baroque bottoms, make beaux gestes,
is too tame a dream for the dislocated,
if their lewd fancies are of flesh debased
by damage, indignities, dirty words:
"if few now applaud a play that ends
with warmth and pardon the word to all,
as, blessed, unbamboozled, the bridal pairs,
rustic and oppidan, in a ring-dance,
image the stars at their stately bransles:
"if all has gone phut in the future we paint,
where, vast and vacant, venomous areas
surround the small sporadic patches
of fen or forest that give food and shelter,
such home as they have, to a human remnant,
"stunted in stature, strangely deformed,
numbering by fives, with no zero,
worshipping a ju-ju General Mo,
in groups ruled by grandmothers,
hirsute witches who on winter nights
"fable them stories of fair-haired Elves
whose magic made the mountain dam,
of Dwarves, cunning in craft, who smithied
the treasure-hoards of tin-cans
they flatten out for their hut roofs,
"nor choice they have nor change know,
their fate ordained by fore-elders,
the Oldest Ones, the wise spirits
who through the mouths of masked wizards
blessing give or blood demand.
"Still monied, immune, stands Megalopolis:
happy he who hopes for better,
what awaits Her may well be worse...."
Thus I was thinking at three A.M.
in Mid-Manhattan till interrupted,
cut short by a sharp voice.
"What fun and games you find it to play
Shame on you for your Schadenfreude."
"My!", I blustered, "How moral we’re getting.
A pococurante? Suppose I were,
so what, if my words are true."
Thereupon, bored, a third voice:
"Go to sleep now for God’s sake!
You both will feel better by breakfast-time."