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Monday, June 8, 2015

Lullaby - W. H. Auden

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstasy.

Certainly, fidelity
On the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell,
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find the mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness find you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.










Hardly a traditional lullaby, but comforting in its own way nonetheless.  Reading this, I picture a new mother or father holding their baby, and that this is their internal monologue, rather than a spoken or sung lullaby.  They hold their baby, the "entirely beautiful" in their life.  The whole poem is about savoring every moment of love because every moment, "on the stroke of the midnight pass" death inches closer, and "every farthing of the cost / all the dreaded cards foretell."  Of course we all know that we will someday die.

Where the poem pivots, where the comfort always re-enters, is in the endless almost stream of consciousness flow of love.  "But from this night, not a whisper, not a thought, not a kiss nor look be lost."  Every single second together with this baby is remembered, savored, sacred.  The third stanza wishes all good fortunes upon this child.  "Noons of dryness find you fed" and "nights of insult let you pass."  At all times, the narrator wishes their child to be "watched by every human love."  The constant outpouring of love more than offsets the grim fate that awaits us all, and of which Auden does remind us.

As a new uncle, I cannot help but wish that my new niece is "watched by every human love" as she grows, and I can't imagine how wondrous and special each and every noise and movement are to my brother and his wife, the new parents.  I do know that my niece will hear many a lullaby in the years to come, and that she is surrounded on every side by love.  Perhaps though, for her, this lullaby from Auden can wait.

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