Grub First, Then Ethics Poem by Wystan Hugh Auden

Grub First, Then Ethics

Rating: 4.8

Should the shade of Plato
Visit us, anxious to know
how anthropos is, we could say to him: "Well,
we can read to ourselves, our use
of holy numbers would shock you, and a poet
may lament—'Where is Telford
whose bridged canals are still a Shropshire glory
where Muir who on a Douglas Spruce
rode out a storm and called an earthquake noble,
where Mr. Vynyian Board,
thanks to whose life-long fuss the hunted whale now suffers
a quicker death?'—without being
called an idiot, though none of them bore arms or
made a public splash," then "Look!"
we would point, for a dig at Athens, "Here
is the place where we cook."
Though built in Lower Austria
do-it-yourself America
prophetically blueprinted this
palace kitchen for kingdoms
where royalty would be incognito, for an age when
Courtesy might think: "From your voice
and the back of your neck I know we shall get on
but cannot tell from your thumbs
who is to give the orders." The right note is harder
to hear than in the Age of Poise
when She talked shamelessly to her maid and sang
noble lies with Him, but struck
it can be still in New Knossos where if I am
banned by a shrug it is my fault,
not Father's, as it is my taste whom
I put below the salt.
The prehistoric hearthstone,
round as a birthday-button
and sacred to Granny, is as old
stuff as the bowel-loosening
nasal war cry, but this all-electric room
where ghosts would feel uneasy,
a witch at a loss, is numinous and again
the centre of a dwelling
not, as lately it was, an abhorrent dungeon
where the warm unlaundered meiny
belched their comic prose and from a dream of which
chaste Milady awoke blushing.
House-proud, deploring labor, extolling work,
these engines politely insist
that banausics can be liberals,
a cook a pure artist
who moves Everyman
at a deeper level than
Mozart, for the subject of the verb
to-hunger is never a name:
dear Adam and Eve had different bottoms,
but the neotene who marches
upright and can subtract reveals a belly
like a serpent's with the same
vulnerable look. Jew, Gentile, or Pigmy,
he must get his calories
before he can consider her profile or
his own, attack you or play chess,
and take what there is however hard to get down:
then surely those in whose creed
God is edible may call a fine
omelet a Christian deed.
The sin of Gluttony
is ranked among the Deadly
Seven, but in murder mysteries
one can be sure the gourmet
didn't do it: children, brave warriors out of a job,
can weigh pounds more than they should
and one can dislike having to kiss them yet,
compared with the thin-lipped, they
are seldom detestable. Some waiter grieves
for the worst dead bore to be a good
trencherman, and no wonder chefs mature into
choleric types, doomed to observe
Beauty peck at a master-dish, their one reward
to behold the mutually hostile
mouth and eyes of a sinner married
at the first bite of a smile.
The houses of our City
are real enough but they lie
haphazardly scattered over the earth,
and Her vagabond forum
is any space where two of us happen to meet
who can spot a citizen
without papers. So, too, can her foes. Where the
power lies remains to be seen,
the force, though, is clearly with them: perhaps only
by falling can She become
Her own Vision, but we have sworn under four eyes
to keep Her up—all we ask for,
should the night come when comets blaze and meres break,
is a good dinner, that we
may march in high fettle, left foot first,
to hold her Thermopylae.

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