Archive for December, 2010

No, I don’t wish to contribute much more to the tonnage of comment on the works of W. H. Auden. I just want to add this feather.

Here’s a poem Auden wrote, I have no idea why. It’s from The Sea and The Mirror, and takes up themes from Shakespeare’s the Tempest…but I don’t care.

Warm are the still and lucky miles,
White shores of longing stretch away,
A light of recognition fills
The whole great day, and bright
The tiny world of lovers’ arms.

Silence invades the breathing wood
Where drowsy limbs a treasure keep,
Now greenly falls the learned shade
Across the sleeping brows
And stirs their secret to a smile.

Restored! Returned! The lost are borne
On seas of shipwreck home at last:
See! In a fire of praising burns
The dry dumb past, and we
Our life-day long shall part no more.


Read the above, and you presume you’ve been reading rhymed verse. But look hard. No rhymes!


Then look harder again. Or hear harder.

The first stressed word of the third line in each stanza rhymes with the last of the fourth.

The first and third lines end in consonant rhyme: it’s delicate, but perceptible.

Even more devilish is the way the second line rhymes fully with the front half of the fourth. (In tricky Auden fashion, there’s no caesura in “Across the sleeping brows”, but the ear still picks up the rhyme because of the quantity of the rhyming syllable, sleep-, and the weakness of the surrounding syllables.)

As if that’s not enough, check out the quasi-rhymes of the middle of the first lines and the ends of the third lines. And the fainter consonant rhymes at the end of each caesura in the first line of each stanza: still-miles, invades-wood, returned-borne. Subtle but audible – and he meant to do it.

All very deliberate…and all quite wonderful. And there’s more deliberate music, beyond those half-buried rhymes and assonances. There are metrical intricacies, too, and much attention to syllabic quantity. Note the slight bump in the metre at the penultimate line, with an alliteration right on the bump.

So clever. So pretty. Why does nobody talk about these things?


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