From In Time Of War
In 1937 WH Auden and Christopher Isherwood were contracted to write a book about the Sino-Japanese war. Auden's principal contribution turned out to be the sonnet sequence and verse commentary called In Time of War. Though not perhaps what the publisher had expected it was immensely ambitious, intended to hold the mirror up to human nature as Pope's Essay on Man had done. This sonnet is nothing less than a compressed history of poetry and of attitudes towards it.
Published 26/06/2011 | 05:00
He was their servant -- some say he was blind --
And moved among their faces and their things;
Their feeling gathered in him like a wind
And sang: they cried -- 'It is a God that sings' --
And worshipped him and set him up apart,
And made him vain, till he mistook for song
The little tremors of his mind and heart
At each domestic wrong.
Songs came no more: he had to make them.
With what precision was each strope planned.
He hugged his sorrow like a plot of land,
And walked like an assassin through the town,
And looked at men and did not like them,
But trembled if one passed him with a frown.
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