W. H. Auden
from In Time of War (1939)
Yes, we are going to suffer, now; the sky
Throbs like a feverish forehead; pain is real;
The groping searchlights suddenly reveal
The little natures that will make us cry,
Who never quite believed they could exist,
Not where we were. They take us by surprise
Like ugly long-forgotten memories,
And like a conscience all the guns resist.
Behind each sociable home-loving eye
The private massacres are taking place;
All Women, Jews, the Rich, the Human Race.
The mountains cannot judge us when we lie:
We dwell upon the earth; the earth obeys
The intelligent and evil till they die.
Engines bear them through the sky: they’re free
And isolated like the very rich;
Remote like savants, they can only see
The breathing city as a target which
Requires their skill; will never see how flying
Is the creation of ideas they hate,
Nor how their own machines are always trying
To push through into life. They chose a fate
The islands where they live did not compel.
Though earth may teach our proper discipline,
At any time it will be possible
To turn away from freedom and become
Bound like the heiress in her mother’s womb,
And helpless as the poor have always been.
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:
A note will follow soon.