In Memory of w.h. Auden


His heart made a last fist.
The language has used him
well and passed him through.
We get what he collected.
The magpie shines, burns
in the face of the polished stone.


His was a mind alive by a pure greed
for reading, for the book
which “is a mirror,”
as Lichtenberg said: “if an ass
peers into it, you can’t expect
an apostle to look out.”
It was a mediating mind.
There were the crowds like fields of waving wheat
and there was the Rilkean fire
he didn’t like
at the bottom of the night.
He loomed back and forth.
The space shrank.
The dogs of Europe wolved
about the house,
darks defining a campfire.


My friend said Auden died
because his face
invaded his body.
Under the joke is a myth—
we invent our faces:
the best suffer most and it shows.
But what about the face
crumpled by a drunk’s Buick?
Or Auden’s
face in its fugue of photographs
so suddenly resolved?
It isn’t suffering that eats us.


They were not painting about suffering.
the Old Masters. Not the human heart but
Brueghel turns the plowman away
for compositional reasons
and smooths the waters for a ship he made
expensive and delicate.
The sun is implied by how
the sure hand makes the light fall
as long as we watch the painting.
The sure hand is cruel.