W. H. Auden, Lullaby
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 sensual 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 dreadful cards foretell, Shall be paid, but not 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 sweetness show Eye and knocking heart may bless. Find the mortal world enough; Noons of dryness see you fed By the involuntary powers, Nights of insult let you pass Watched by every human love.
I would have been in my late teens when I encountered this
poem, and it shook me to my core.
The song is by a man writing about a man, but that, to me,
is not important. What resonates, like a peal of bells,
is the calm, resigned knowledge of the cost of love and
of its nature. In the still centre of the small hours the
poet finds acceptance and peace.