WH Auden

The Riddle - Poem by WH Auden

Underneath the leaves of life,
Green on the prodigious tree,
In a trance of grief
Stand the fallen man and wife:
Far away the single stag
Banished to a lonely crag
Gazes placid out to sea,
And from thickets round about
Breeding animals look in
On Duality,
And the birds fly in and out
Of the world of man.

Down in order from the ridge,
Bayonets glittering in the sun,
Soldiers who will judge
Wind towards the little bridge:
Even politicians speak
Truths of value to the weak,
Necessary acts are done
By the ill and the unjust;
But the Judgment and the Smile,
Though these two-in-one
See creation as they must,
None shall reconcile.

Bordering our middle earth
Kingdoms of the Short and Tall,
Rivals for our faith,
Stir up envy from our birth:
So the giant who storms the sky
In an angry wish to die
Wakes the hero in us all,
While the tiny with their power
To divide and hide and flee,
When our fortunes fall
Tempt to a belief in our

Lovers running each to each
Feel such timid dreams catch fire
Blazing as they touch,
Learn what love alone can teach:
Happy on a tousled bed
Praise Blake's acumen who said:
"One thing only we require
Of each other; we must see
In another's lineaments
Gratified desire";
This is our humanity;
Nothing else contents.

Nowhere else could I have known
Than, beloved, in your eyes
What we have to learn,
That we love ourselves alone:
All our terrors burned away
We can learn at last to say:
"All our knowledge comes to this,
That existence is enough,
That in savage solitude
Or the play of love
Every living creature is
Woman, Man, and Child."

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Read poems about / on: hero, solitude, running, grief, birth, alone, lonely, faith, woman, power, happy, tree, child, smile, green, fire, wind, sea, sky, sun

Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003

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