Re-reading Auden


This lank-haired, pasty-faced young busker
isn't the act I came prepared for:
gauche, intense, a taker of risks
of a precocious disproportion,
raw, lacking in circumspection,
unpredictable in direction.

Travelling through my practised patter
(left hand, right hand, find the lady)
for an audience of two or three
idlers and children at the market's edge,
I envy each inelegant gesture
with which a dead man stamps his future.


We live like you in a low dishonest decade.
The new age never existed except in the mind
(though all things exist there). Idols are clay-footed
and slow plodding's the only locomotion.
The dream I had that the lean years would outlast me
edges into the light. This fin-de-siècle
brings the return of nightmares thought to be over,
where cleanliness is next to inhumanity,
and the sins of the fathers (generations ago
released like spores into the atmosphere)
teach the lessons of history to ignorant children.
Civic woodcutters are always ready
to see the wolf in the bedridden old woman,
and the words you spoke at the edge of the dark forest
are truer and more impossible than ever:
collectively we must love one another or die.


Every year at Hallowe'en
mythic monsters mop and preen.
Some require continually
this savage anonymity.

When the children slipped their traces,
metamorphosed to master races,
innocent and knowing eyes
with habitual surprise
witnessed from a crumpled face
corruption of the human race.

Every generation finds
monstrous masks for little minds.
In the vaults of superstition
ancient shapes take definition.
Little Darlings pant beneath
Tinkerbells with pointed teeth.
Symbols of annihilation
in iconic celebration
strut in Tinkertown parades.
Though it's more than two decades
since the housewife History
having squeezed your poetry
threw the human pith away
we can use those eyes today.


© Brian Fewster,
Published in The Critical Survey 6/1, 1994

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