In Memory of Sigmund Freud
When there are so many we shall have to mourn, when grief has been made so public, and exposed to the critique of a whole epoch the frailty of our conscience and anguish, of whom shall we speak? For every day they die among us, those who were doing us some good, who knew it was never enough but hoped to improve a little by living. Such was this doctor: still at eighty he wished to think of our life from whose unruliness so many plausible young futures with threats or flattery ask obedience, but his wish was denied him: he closed his eyes upon that last picture, common to us all, of problems like relatives gathered puzzled and jealous about our dying. For about him till the very end were still those he had studied, the fauna of the night, and shades that still waited to enter the bright circle of his recognition turned elsewhere with their disappointment as he was taken away from his life interest to go back to the earth in London, an important Jew who died in exile. Only Hate was happy, hoping to augment his practice now, and his dingy clientele who think they can be cured by killing and covering the garden with ashes. They are still alive, but in a world he changed simply by looking back with no false regrets; all he did was to remember like the old and be honest like children. He wasn't clever at all: he merely told the unhappy Present to recite the Past like a poetry lesson till sooner or later it faltered at the line where long ago the accusations had begun, and suddenly knew by whom it had been judged, how rich life had been and how silly, and was life-forgiven and more humble, able to approach the Future as a friend without a wardrobe of excuses, without a set mask of rectitude or an embarrassing over-familiar gesture. No wonder the ancient cultures of conceit in his technique of unsettlement foresaw the fall of princes, the collapse of their lucrative patterns of frustration: if he succeeded, why, the Generalised Life would become impossible, the monolith of State be broken and prevented the co-operation of avengers. Of course they called on God, but he went his way down among the lost people like Dante, down to the stinking fosse where the injured lead the ugly life of the rejected, and showed us what evil is, not, as we thought, deeds that must be punished, but our lack of faith, our dishonest mood of denial, the concupiscence of the oppressor. If some traces of the autocratic pose, the paternal strictness he distrusted, still clung to his utterance and features, it was a protective coloration for one who'd lived among enemies so long: if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd, to us he is no more a person now but a whole climate of opinion under whom we conduct our different lives: Like weather he can only hinder or help, the proud can still be proud but find it a little harder, the tyrant tries to make do with him but doesn't care for him much: he quietly surrounds all our habits of growth and extends, till the tired in even the remotest miserable duchy have felt the change in their bones and are cheered till the child, unlucky in his little State, some hearth where freedom is excluded, a hive whose honey is fear and worry, feels calmer now and somehow assured of escape, while, as they lie in the grass of our neglect, so many long-forgotten objects revealed by his undiscouraged shining are returned to us and made precious again; games we had thought we must drop as we grew up, little noises we dared not laugh at, faces we made when no one was looking. But he wishes us more than this. To be free is often to be lonely. He would unite the unequal moieties fractured by our own well-meaning sense of justice, would restore to the larger the wit and will the smaller possesses but can only use for arid disputes, would give back to the son the mother's richness of feeling: but he would have us remember most of all to be enthusiastic over the night, not only for the sense of wonder it alone has to offer, but also because it needs our love. With large sad eyes its delectable creatures look up and beg us dumbly to ask them to follow: they are exiles who long for the future that lives in our power, they too would rejoice if allowed to serve enlightenment like him, even to bear our cry of 'Judas', as he did and all must bear who serve it. One rational voice is dumb. Over his grave the household of Impulse mourns one dearly loved: sad is Eros, builder of cities, and weeping anarchic Aphrodite.
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.
W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden was admired for his unsurpassed technical virtuosity and ability to write poems in nearly every imaginable verse form; his incorporation of popular culture, current events, and vernacular speech in his work; and also for the vast range of his intellect, which drew easily from an extraordinary variety of literatures, art forms, social and political theories, and scientific and technical information.
Date Published: 1940-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/memory-sigmund-freud