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From "Out on the lawn, I lie in bed" / WH Auden

A very Audenesque Auden poem from 1933 that undercuts the dreamy, chummy pastoral of the first few stanzas with an unsettling meditation on the cost of all that luxurious summertime ease. "The crumpling flood" of history bursts the "dykes of our content" in a typically 1930s bit of social awareness.

Interestingly, this full-length 16-stanza version from June 1933 is often anthologised as "A Summer's Night" with only the first few jaunty stanzas included.

Auden was harsh on his early poems and hacked this early one about (the moon becomes a butcher not an orphan in later versions), though his friend Benjamin Britten sets it beautifully in his Spring Symphony towards the end of his life.

Out on the lawn I lie in bed,

Vega conspicuous overhead

In the windless nights of June;

Forests of green have done complete

The day's activity; my feet

Point to the rising moon.

Lucky, this point in time and space

Is chosen as my working place;

Where the sexy airs of summer,

The bathing hours and the bare arms,

The leisured drives through a land of farms,

Are good to the newcomer.


That later we, though parted then

May still recall these evenings when

Fear gave his watch no look;

The lion griefs loped from the shade

And on our knees their muzzles laid,

And Death put down his book.


Now North and South and East and West

Those I love lie down to rest;

The moon looks on them all:

The healers and the brilliant talkers.

The eccentrics and the silent walkers,

The dumpy and the tall.

She climbs the European sky;

Churches and power stations lie

Alike among earth's fixtures:

Into galleries she peers,

And blankly as an orphan stares

Upon the marvellous pictures.


The creepered wall stands up to hide

The gathering multitudes outside

Whose glances hunger worsens;

Concealing from their wretchedness

Our metaphysical distress,

Our kindness to ten persons.


Soon through the dykes of our content

The crumpling flood will force a rent,

And, taller than a tree,

Hold sudden death before our eyes

Whose river-dreams long hide the size

And vigours of the sea.

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Kindness / Naomi Shihab Nye

Naomi Shihab Nye is an American-Palestinian poet who lives in San Antonio. Her poetry is much garlanded and she has been Young People’s poet laureate. I was sent this poem by my friend Alice Eldridge


Aug 17, 2022

Mm, it *is* dreamy! Can't tell if that's because of or in spite of this particular rhyme scheme. Took me a while to warm to it but got there in the end ... T x


As a pagan this poem felt wonderfully personal for me with its mention of the four quarters..North, south east and west and of course our lady moon shining down. 😊

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