Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tell me the truth about Love

W. H. Auden


Some say love's a little boy,
And some say it's a bird,
Some say it makes the world go around,
Some say that's absurd,
And when I asked the man next-door,
Who looked as if he knew,
His wife got very cross indeed,
And said it wouldn't do.

Does it look like a pair of pyjamas,
Or the ham in a temperance hotel?
Does its odour remind one of llamas,
Or has it a comforting smell?
Is it prickly to touch as a hedge is,
Or soft as eiderdown fluff?
Is it sharp or quite smooth at the edges?
O tell me the truth about love.

Our history books refer to it
In cryptic little notes,
It's quite a common topic on
The Transatlantic boats;
I've found the subject mentioned in
Accounts of suicides,
And even seen it scribbled on
The backs of railway guides.

Does it howl like a hungry Alsatian,
Or boom like a military band?
Could one give a first-rate imitation
On a saw or a Steinway Grand?
Is its singing at parties a riot?
Does it only like Classical stuff?
Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?
O tell me the truth about love.

I looked inside the summer-house;
It wasn't over there;
I tried the Thames at Maidenhead,
And Brighton's bracing air.
I don't know what the blackbird sang,
Or what the tulip said;
But it wasn't in the chicken-run,
Or underneath the bed.

Can it pull extraordinary faces?
Is it usually sick on a swing?
Does it spend all its time at the races,
or fiddling with pieces of string?
Has it views of its own about money?
Does it think Patriotism enough?
Are its stories vulgar but funny?
O tell me the truth about love.

When it comes, will it come without warning
Just as I'm picking my nose?
Will it knock on my door in the morning,
Or tread in the bus on my toes?
Will it come like a change in the weather?
Will its greeting be courteous or rough?
Will it alter my life altogether?
O tell me the truth about love.

There's just no one quite like Auden, is there? This is such a delightful poem - with its laugh out loud wit and its infectious rhythm. What I love about it is the way Auden manages to strike the balance between the ridiculous and the clever. There are lines in here that are just downright silly (all that rhyming of pyjamas with llamas for instance) but in between them Auden manages to slip in the one line that lifts the whole thing above mere doggerel. Of all the questions it is possible to ask about the nature of love, I can think of none more pertinent than: "Will it stop when one wants to be quiet?". Ah, if only.

P.S. My copy of the Collected Shorter Poems has this poem listed as number XII in the collection Twelve Songs (yes, the same one that includes the 'stop all the clocks' poem) and provides no other title. I've followed other sites on the Internet though and called it Tell me Truth about Love


Blogger Veena said...

Yes, there's no one quite like Auden!

4/17/2006 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger Chronicus Skepticus said...

Nice reading, Falstaff.

And yes...if only.


4/17/2006 10:24:00 PM  

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