Today is the birthday of W.H. Auden (1907-1973), and it is in his honor that I post this rather melancholy but very beautiful poem.
This day is also the 125th anniversary of the dedication in 1885 of the Washington Monument, so for an illustration and mini-history, please see Washington’s Monument.
And down by the brimming river I heard a lover sing Under an arch of the railway: ‘Love has no ending.
‘I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you Till China and Africa meet, And the river jumps over the mountain And the salmon sing in the street,
‘I’ll love you till the ocean Is folded and hung up to dry And the seven stars go squawking Like geese about the sky.
‘The years shall run like rabbits, For in my arms I hold The Flower of the Ages, And the first love of the world.’
But all the clocks in the city Began to whirr and chime: ‘O let not Time deceive you, You cannot conquer Time.
‘In the burrows of the Nightmare Where Justice naked is, Time watches from the shadow And coughs when you would kiss.
‘In headaches and in worry Vaguely life leaks away, And Time will have his fancy To-morrow or to-day.
‘Into many a green valley Drifts the appalling snow; Time breaks the threaded dances And the diver’s brilliant bow.
‘O plunge your hands in water, Plunge them in up to the wrist; Stare, stare in the basin And wonder what you’ve missed.
‘The glacier knocks in the cupboard, The desert sighs in the bed, And the crack in the tea-cup opens A lane to the land of the dead.
‘Where the beggars raffle the banknotes And the Giant is enchanting to Jack, And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer, And Jill goes down on her back.
‘O look, look in the mirror, O look in your distress: Life remains a blessing Although you cannot bless.
‘O stand, stand at the window As the tears scald and start; You shall love your crooked neighbour With your crooked heart.’
It was late, late in the evening, The lovers they were gone; The clocks had ceased their chiming, And the deep river ran on.
—W. H. Auden