I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known—cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,—
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
   This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
   There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads—you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

This poem is in the public domain.

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
                        like a buttercup
                                                upon its branching stem-
save that it's green and wooden-
                        I come, my sweet,
                                                to sing to you.
We lived long together
                        a life filled,
                                                if you will,
with flowers.  So that
                        I was cheered
                                                when I came first to know
that there were flowers also
                        in hell.
I'm filled with the fading memory of those flowers
                        that we both loved,
                                                even to this poor
colorless thing-
                        I saw it
                                                when I was a child-
little prized among the living
                        but the dead see,
                                                asking among themselves:
What do I remember
                        that was shaped
                                                as this thing is shaped?
while our eyes fill
                        with tears.
                                                Of love, abiding love
it will be telling
                        though too weak a wash of crimson
                                                colors it
to make it wholly credible.
                        There is something
                                                something urgent
I have to say to you
                        and you alone
                                                but it must wait
while I drink in
                        the joy of your approach,
                                                perhaps for the last time.
And so
                        with fear in my heart
                                                I drag it out
and keep on talking
                        for I dare not stop.
                                                Listen while I talk on
against time.
                        It will not be
                                                for long.
I have forgot
                        and yet I see clearly enough
central to the sky
                        which ranges round it.
                                                An odor
springs from it!
                        A sweetest odor!
                                                Honeysuckle!  And now
there comes the buzzing of a bee!
                        and a whole flood
                                                of sister memories!
Only give me time,
                        time to recall them
                                                before I shall speak out.
Give me time,
When I was a boy
                        I kept a book
                                                to which, from time
to time,
                        I added pressed flowers
                                                until, after a time,
I had a good collection.
                        The asphodel,
among them.
                        I bring you,
a memory of those flowers.
                        They were sweet
                                                when I pressed them
and retained
                        something of their sweetness
                                                a long time.
It is a curious odor,
                        a moral odor,
                                                that brings me
near to you.
                        The color
                                                was the first to go.
There had come to me
                        a challenge,
                                                your dear self,
mortal as I was,
                        the lily's throat
                                                to the hummingbird!
Endless wealth,
                        I thought,
                                                held out its arms to me.
A thousand tropics
                        in an apple blossom.
                                                The generous earth itself
gave us lief.
                        The whole world
                                                became my garden!
But the sea
                        which no one tends
                                                is also a garden
when the sun strikes it
                        and the waves
                                                are wakened.
I have seen it
                        and so have you
                                                when it puts all flowers
to shame.
                        Too, there are the starfish
                                                stiffened by the sun
and other sea wrack
                        and weeds.  We knew that
                                                along with the rest of it
for we were born by the sea,
                        knew its rose hedges
                                                to the very water's brink.
There the pink mallow grows
                        and in their season
and there, later,
                        we went to gather
                                                the wild plum.
I cannot say
                        that I have gone to hell
                                                for your love
but often
                        found myself there
                                                in your pursuit.
I do not like it
                        and wanted to be
                                                in heaven.  Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
                        from books
                                                and out of them
about love.
                                                is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
                        which can be attained,
                                                I think,
in its service.
                        Its guerdon
                                                is a fairy flower;
a cat of twenty lives.
                        If no one came to try it
                                                the world
would be the loser.
                        It has been
                                                for you and me
as one who watches a storm
                        come in over the water.
                                                We have stood
from year to year
                        before the spectacle of our lives
                                                with joined hands.
The storm unfolds.
                                                plays about the edges of the clouds.
The sky to the north
                        is placid,
                                                blue in the afterglow
as the storm piles up.
                        It is a flower
                                                that will soon reach
the apex of its bloom.
                        We danced,
                                                in our minds,
and read a book together.
                        You remember?
                                                It was a serious book.
And so books
                        entered our lives.
The sea!  The sea!
                                                when I think of the sea
there comes to mind
                        the Iliad
                                                and Helen's public fault
that bred it.
                        Were it not for that
                                                there would have been
 no poem but the world
                        if we had remembered,
                                                those crimson petals
spilled among the stones,
                        would have called it simply
The sexual orchid that bloomed then
                        sending so many
men to their graves
                        has left its memory
                                                to a race of fools
or heroes
                        if silence is a virtue.
                                                The sea alone
with its multiplicity
                        holds any hope.
                                                The storm
has proven abortive
                        but we remain
                                                after the thoughts it roused
                        re-cement our lives.
                                                It is the mind
the mind
                        that must be cured
                                                short of death's
                        and the will becomes again
                                                a garden.  The poem
is complex and the place made
                        in our lives
                                                for the poem.
Silence can be complex too,
                        but you do not get far
                                                with silence.
Begin again.
                        It is like Homer's
                                                catalogue of ships:
it fills up the time.
                        I speak in figures,
                                                well enough, the dresses
you wear are figures also,
                        we could not meet
                                                otherwise.  When I speak
of flowers
                        it is to recall
                                                that at one time
we were young.
                        All women are not Helen,
                                                I know that,
but have Helen in their hearts.
                        My sweet,
                                                you have it also, therefore
I love you
                        and could not love you otherwise.
                                                Imagine you saw
a field made up of women
                        all silver-white.
                                                What should you do
but love them?
                        The storm bursts
                                                or fades!  it is not
the end of the world.
                        Love is something else,
                                                or so I thought it,
a garden which expands,
                        though I knew you as a woman
                                                and never thought otherwise,
until the whole sea
                        has been taken up
                                                and all its gardens.
It was the love of love,
                        the love that swallows up all else,
                                                a grateful love,
a love of nature, of people,
                        of animals,
                                                a love engendering
gentleness and goodness
                        that moved me
                                                and that I saw in you.
I should have known,
                        though I did not,
                                                that the lily-of-the-valley
is a flower makes many ill
                        who whiff it.
                                                We had our children,
rivals in the general onslaught.
                        I put them aside
                                                though I cared for them.
as well as any man
                        could care for his children
                                                according to my lights.
You understand
                        I had to meet you
                                                after the event
and have still to meet you.
                                                to which you too shall bow
along with me-
                        a flower
                                                a weakest flower
shall be our trust
                        and not because
                                                we are too feeble
to do otherwise
                        but because
                                                at the height of my power
I risked what I had to do,
                        therefore to prove
                                                that we love each other
while my very bones sweated
                        that I could not cry to you
                                                in the act.
Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
                        I come, my sweet,
                                                to sing to you!
My heart rouses
                        thinking to bring you news
                                                of something
that concerns you
                        and concerns many men.  Look at
                                                what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
                        despised poems.
                                                It is difficult
to get the news from poems
                        yet men die miserably every day
                                                for lack
of what is found there.
                        Hear me out
                                                for I too am concerned
and every man
                        who wants to die at peace in his bed

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.