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The Well Read Poem

May 31, 2021

Welcome to Season 3 of The Well Read Poem podcast. In this third season we will explore six lyric poems by the great English modernist W. H. Auden. The study of Auden’s poetry is in many respects a study of the 20th Century itself, and of its religious, philosophical, and political concerns.
Auden was one of the great chroniclers of the so-called “Age of Anxiety,” a term he coined, and a brilliant and sympathetic analyst of modern man’s fears and hopes, beliefs and unbeliefs. Poem begins at timestamp 8:10.


by W. H. Auden

With conscience cocked to listen for the thunder,
He saw the Devil busy in the wind,
Over the chiming steeples and then under
The doors of nuns and doctors who had sinned.

What apparatus could stave off disaster
Or cut the brambles of man's error down?
Flesh was a silent dog that bites its master,
World a still pond in which its children drown.

The fuse of Judgement spluttered in his head:
"Lord, smoke these honeyed insects from their hives.
All Works, Great Men, Societies are bad.
The Just shall live by Faith..." he cried in dread.

And men and women of the world were glad,
Who'd never cared or trembled in their lives.