I have mentioned a couple of Auden poems from Homage to Clio, the book from which came The More Loving One. Here is one of them that I like a lot. My only trouble with it is the “thank our lucky star” line. Was this less of a cliche when the poem was written or was he just in a rush?
An Island Cemetery
by W.H. Auden
This graveyard with its umbrella pines
Is inferior in status to the vines
And, though new guests keep crowding in,
Must stay the size it’s always been.
Where men are many, acres few,
The dead must be cultivated too,
Like seeds in any farmer’s field
Are planted for the bones they yield.
It takes about eighteen months for one
To ripen into a skeleton,
To be washed, folded, packed in a small
Niche hollowed out of the cemetery wall.
Curiousity made me stop
While sextons were digging up a crop:
Bards have taken it too amiss
That Alexanders come to this.
Wherever our personalities go
(And, to tell the truth, we do not know),
The solid structures they leave behind
Are no discredit to our kind.
Mourners may miss, and they do, a face,
But at least they cannot detect a trace
Of those fishlike hungers, mammalian heats,
That kin our flesh to the coarser meats.
And who would be ashamed to own
To a patience that we share with stone,
This underlying thing in us
Which never at any time made a fuss?
Considering what our motives are,
We ought to thank our lucky star
That Love must ride to reach his ends
A mount which has no need of friends.
One response to “Island Cemetery”
The only other place that readily comes to mind where I’ve read words of such high praise for bones is Byron’s “Lines Inscribed Upon a Cup Formed From a Skull.” I have a sneaking suspicion I’m forgetting something obvious, though…
A silly question: does Auden really use the word ‘kin’ as a verb, or am I misreading that?