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Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,

And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;

He knew human folly like the back of his hand,

And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,

And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

O Where Are You Going?

"O where are you going?" said reader to rider,

"That valley is fatal where furnaces burn,

Yonder's the midden whose odours will madden,

That gap is the grave where the tall return."

"O do you imagine," said fearer to farer,

"That dusk will delay on your path to the pass,

Your diligent looking discover the lacking,

Your footsteps feel from granite to grass?"

"O what was that bird," said horror to hearer,

"Did you see that shape in the twisted trees?

Behind you swiftly the figure comes softly,

The spot on your skin is a shocking disease."

"Out of this house"---said rider to reader,

"Yours never will"---said farer to fearer

"They're looking for you"---said hearer to horror,

As he left them there, as he left them there.

O What Is That Sound

O what is that sound which so thrills the ear

Down in the valley drumming, drumming?

Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,

The soldiers coming.

O what is that light I see flashing so clear

Over the distance brightly, brightly?

Only the sun on their weapons, dear,

As they step lightly.

O what are they doing with all that gear,

What are they doing this morning, this morning?

Only their usual manoeuvres, dear,

Or perhaps a warning.

O why have they left the road down there,

Why are they suddenly wheeling, wheeling?

Perhaps a change in their orders, dear.

Why are you kneeling?

O haven't they stopped for the doctor's care,

Haven't they reined their horses, their horses?

Why, they are none of them wounded, dear,

None of the forces.

O is it the parson they want, with white hair,

Is it the parson, is it, is it?

No, they are passing his gateway, dear,

Without a visit.

O it must be the farmer that lives so near.

It must be the farmer so cunning, so cunning?

They have passed the farmyard already, dear,

And now they are running.

O where are you going? Stay with me here!

Were the vows you swore deceiving, deceiving?

No, I promised to love you, dear,

But I must be leaving.

O it's broken the lock and splintered the door,

O it's the gate where they're turning, turning;

Their boots are heavy on the floor

And their eyes are burning.

Look, stranger

Look, stranger, on this island now

The leaping light for your delight discovers,

Stand stable here

And silent be,

That through the channels of the ear

May wander like a river

The swaying sound of the sea.

Here at a small field's ending pause

Where the chalk wall falls to the foam and its tall ledges

Oppose the pluck

And knock of the tide,

And the shingle scrambles after the suck-

-ing surf, and a gull lodges

A moment on its sheer side.

Far off like floating seeds the ships

Diverge on urgent voluntary errands,

And this full view

Indeed may enter

And move in memory as now these clouds do,

That pass the harbour mirror

And all the summer through the water saunter.

The Shield of Achilles

She looked over his shoulder

For vines and olive trees,

Marble well-governed cities

And ships upon untamed seas,

But there on the shining metal

His hands had put instead

An artificial wilderness

And a sky like lead.

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,

No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,

Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,

Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood

An unintelligible multitude,

A million eyes, a million boots in line,

Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face

Proved by statistics that some cause was just

In tones as dry and level as the place:

No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;

Column by column in a cloud of dust

They marched away enduring a belief

Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

She looked over his shoulder

For ritual pieties,

White flower-garlanded heifers,

Libation and sacrifice,

But there on the shining metal

Where the altar should have been,

She saw by his flickering forge-light

Quite another scene.

Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot

Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)

And sentries sweated for the day was hot:

A crowd of ordinary decent folk

Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke

As three pale figures were led forth and bound

To three posts driven upright in the ground.

The mass and majesty of this world, all

That carries weight and always weighs the same

Lay in the hands of others; they were small

And could not hope for help and no help came:

What their foes liked to do was done, their shame

Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride

And died as men before their bodies died.

She looked over his shoulder

For athletes at their games,

Men and women in a dance

Moving their sweet limbs

Quick, quick, to music,

But there on the shining shield

His hands had set no dancing-floor

But a weed-choked field.

A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,

Loitered about that vacancy; a bird

Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:

That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,

Were axioms to him, who'd never heard

Of any world where promises were kept,

Or one could weep because another wept.

The thin-lipped armorer,

Hephaestos, hobbled away,

Thetis of the shining breasts

Cried out in dismay

At what the god had wrought

To please her son, the strong

Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles

Who would not live long.

The Fall of Rome

(for Cyril Connolly)

The piers are pummelled by the waves;

In a lonely field the rain

Lashes an abandoned train;

Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;

Agents of the Fisc pursue

Absconding tax-defaulters through

The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send

The temple prostitutes to sleep;

All the literati keep

An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may

Extol the Ancient Disciplines,

But the muscle-bound Marines

Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar's double-bed is warm

As an unimportant clerk


On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,

Little birds with scarlet legs,

Sitting on their speckled eggs,

Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast

Herds of reindeer move across

Miles and miles of golden moss,

Silently and very fast.


Yesterday all the past. The language of size

Spreading to China along the trade-routes; the diffusion

Of the counting-frame and the cromlech;

Yesterday the shadow-reckoning in the sunny climates.

Yesterday the assessment of insurance by cards,

The divination of water; yesterday the invention

Of cartwheels and clocks, the taming of

Horses. Yesterday the bustling world of the navigators.

Yesterday the abolition of fairies and giants,

the fortress like a motionless eagle eyeing the valley,

the chapel built in the forest;

Yesterday the carving of angels and alarming gargoyles;

The trial of heretics among the columns of stone;

Yesterday the theological feuds in the taverns

And the miraculous cure at the fountain;

Yesterday the Sabbath of witches; but to-day the struggle

Yesterday the installation of dynamos and turbines,

The construction of railways in the colonial desert;

Yesterday the classic lecture

On the origin of Mankind. But to-day the struggle.

Yesterday the belief in the absolute value of Greek,

The fall of the curtain upon the death of a hero;

Yesterday the prayer to the sunset

And the adoration of madmen. but to-day the struggle.

Here War Is Simple

Here war is simple like a monument:

A telephone is speaking to a man;

Flags on a map assert that troops were sent;

A boy brings milk in bowls. There is a plan

For living men in terror of their lives,

Who thirst at nine who were to thirst at noon,

And can be lost and are, and miss their wives,

And, unlike an idea, can die too soon.

But ideas can be true although men die,

And we can watch a thousand faces

Made active by one lie:

And maps can really point to places

Where life is evil now:

Nanking. Dachau.


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.

Certainty, 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.

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling in the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


Zet alle klokken stil, zet die telefoon af,

Smoor met een vette kluif het honds geblaf,

Doe de piano’s zwijgen, breng met stille trom

De kist naar buiten. Dragers, kom!

Laat vliegtuigen kreunend cirkelen in hun vlucht

En de boodschap Hij is Dood kerven in de lucht,

Hang crêpe strikken rond witte duivenkragen,

Laat verkeersagenten rouwhandschoenen dragen.

Hij was mijn Noord, Zuid, West en Oost,

Mijn werkweek en mijn Zondagstroost,

Mijn noen en middernacht, mijn gesprek, mijn lied,

Ik dacht dat liefde eeuwig duurt: ik wist het niet.

Geen sterren nodig nu, doof ze zonder pardon;

Steek de maan weg en ontmantel de zon;

Giet de oceaan leeg, veeg het woud schoon.

Want nu wordt niets ooit weer gewoon.

Translation: DE MEESTER Z.

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Museum van Schone Kunsten

Op Bruegels Icarus, bij voorbeeld: zoals alles zich

Op zijn dode gemak van de ramp afkeert; de man achter de ploeg

Zou de plons gehoord kunnen hebben, de verloren kreet,

Maar voor hem was het geen belangrijk fiasco; de zon scheen

Zoals het moest op de witte benen die verdwenen in het groene

Water; en het kostbare, fragiele schip dat iets merkwaardigs

Gezien moet hebben, een jongen die uit de hemel viel,

Moest ergens heen en zeilde rustig door.

Vertaling J. BERNLEF

Who's Who

A shilling life will give you all the facts:

How Father beat him, how he ran away,

What were the struggles of his youth, what acts

Made him the greatest figure of his day;

Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,

Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea;

Some of the last researchers even write

Love made him weep his pints like you and me.

With all his honours on, he sighed for one

Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;

Did little jobs about the house with skill

And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still

Or potter round the garden; answered some

Of his long marvellous letters but kept none.

The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well

That, for all they care, I can go to hell,

But on earth indifference is the least

We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am

Of stars that do not give a damn,

I cannot, now I see them, say

I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,

I should learn to look at an empty sky

And feel its total dark sublime,

Though this might take me a little time.

As I walked our one evening

As I walked out one evening,

Walking down Bristol Street,

The crowds upon the pavement

Were fields of harvest wheat.

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.

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so

Time only knows the price we have to pay;

If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,

If we should stumble when musicians play,

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,

Because I love you more than I can say,

If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,

There must be reason why the leaves decay;

Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,

The vision seriously intends to stay;

If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,

And the brooks and soldiers run away;

Will Time say nothing but I told you so?

If I could tell you I would let you know.

In Memory of W. B. Yeats


He disappeared in the dead of winter:

The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,

And snow disfigured the public statues;

The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.

What instruments we have agree

The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness

The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,

The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;

By mourning tongues

The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,

An afternoon of nurses and rumours;

The provinces of his body revolted,

The squares of his mind were empty,

Silence invaded the suburbs,

The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities

And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,

To find his happiness in another kind of wood

And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.

The words of a dead man

Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow

When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the bourse,

And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed

And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom

A few thousand will think of this day

As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree

The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:

The parish of rich women, physical decay,

Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.

Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives

In the valley of its making where executives

Would never want to tamper, flows on south

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,

Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:

William Yeats is laid to rest.

Let the Irish vessel lie

Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark

All the dogs of Europe bark,

And the living nations wait,

Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace

Stares from every human face,

And the seas of pity lie

Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right

To the bottom of the night,

With your unconstraining voice

Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse

Make a vineyard of the curse,

Sing of human unsuccess

In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start,

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.

September 1, 1939

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.

Death's Echo

“O who can ever gaze his fill,"

Farmer and fisherman say,

"On native shore and local hill,

Grudge aching limb or callus on the hand?

Father, grandfather stood upon this land,

And here the pilgrims from our loins will stand."

So farmer and fisherman say

In their fortunate hey-day:

But Death's low answer drifts across

Empty catch or harvest loss

Or an unlucky May.

The earth is an oyster with nothing inside it,

Not to be born is the best for man;

The end of toil is a bailiff's order,

Throw down the mattock and dance while you can.

"O life's too short for friends who share,"

Travellers think in their hearts,

"The city's common bed, the air,

The mountain bivouac and the bathing beach,

Where incidents draw every day from each

Memorable gesture and witty speech."

So travellers think in their hearts,

Till malice or circumstance parts

Them from their constant humour:

And slyly Death's coercive rumour

In that moment starts.

A friend is the old old tale of Narcissus,

Not to be born is the best for man;

An active partner in something disgraceful,

Change your partner, dance while you can.

"O stretch your hands across the sea,"

The impassioned lover cries,

"Stretch them towards your harm and me.

Our grass is green, and sensual our brief bed,

The stream sings at its foot, and at its head

The mild and vegetarian beasts are fed."

So the impassioned lover cries

Till the storm of pleasure dies:

From the bedpost and the rocks

Death's enticing echo mocks,

And his voice replies.

The greater the love, the more false to its object,

Not to be born is the best for man;

After the kiss comes the impulse to throttle,

Break the embraces, dance while you can.

"I see the guilty world forgiven,"

Dreamer and drunkard sing,

"The ladders let down out of heaven,

The laurel springing from the martyr's blood,

The children skipping where the weeper stood,

The lovers natural and the beasts all good."

So dreamer and drunkard sing

Till day their sobriety bring:

Parrotwise with Death's reply

From whelping fear and nesting lie,

Woods and their echoes ring.

The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews,

Not to be born is the best for man;

The second-best is a formal order,

The dance's pattern; dance while you can.

Dance, dancefor the figure is easy,

The tune is catching and will not stop;

Dance till the stars come down from the rafters;

Dance, dance, dance till you drop.

Let A Florid Music Praise

Let a florid music praise,

The flute and the trumpet,

Beauty's conquest of your face:

In that land of flesh and bone,

Where from citadels on high

Her imperial standards fly,

Let the hot sun

Shine on, shine on.

O but the unloved have had power,

The weeping and striking,

Always: time will bring their hour;

Their secretive children walk

Through your vigilance of breath

To unpardonable Death,

And my vows break

Before his look.