Sunday, June 8, 2008

Poem of the Day: "Ode to Terminus"

If I were renaming this blog today, I might well name it "Ode to Terminus."

W.H. Auden, "Ode to Terminus"

The High Priests of telescopes and cyclotrons
keep making pronouncements about happenings
on scales too gigantic or dwarfish
to be noticed by our native senses,

discoveries which, couched in the elegant
euphemisms of algebra, look innocent,
harmless enough but, when translated
into the vulgar anthropomorphic

tongue, will give no cause for hilarity
to gardeners or housewives: if galaxies
bolt like panicking mobs, if mesons
riot like fish in a feeding-frenzy,

it sounds too like Political History
to boost civil morale, too symbolic of
the crimes and strikes and demonstrations
we are supposed to gloat on at breakfast.

How trite, though, our fears beside the miracle
that we're here to shiver, that a Thingummy
so addicted to lethal violence
should have somehow secreted a placid

tump with exactly the right ingredients
to start and to cocker Life, that heavenly
freak for whose manage we shall have to
give account at the Judgement, our Middle-

Earth, where Sun-Father to all appearances
moves by day from orient to occident,
and his light is felt as a friendly
presence not a photonic bombardment,

where all visibles do have a definite
outline they stick to, and are undoubtedly
at rest or in motion, where lovers
recognize each other by their surface,

where to all species except the talkative
have been allotted the niche and diet that
become them. This, whatever micro-
biology may think, is the world we

really live in and that saves our sanity,
who know all too well how the most erudite
mind behaves in the dark without a
surround it is called on to interpret,

how, discarding rhythm, punctuation, metaphor,
it sinks into a driveling monologue,
too literal to see a joke or
distinguish a penis from a pencil.

Venus and Mars are powers too natural
to temper our outlandish extravagance:
You alone, Terminus the Mentor,
can teach us how to alter our gestures.

God of walls, doors and reticence, nemesis
overtakes the sacreligious technocrat,
but blessed is the City that thanks you
for giving us games and grammar and metres.

By whose grace, also, every gathering
of two or three in confident amity
repeats the pentacostal marvel,
as each in each finds his righteous translator.

In this world our colossal immodesty
has plundered and poisoned, it is possible
You still might save us, who by now have
learned this: that scientists, to be truthful,

must remind us to take all they say as a
tall story, that abhorred in the Heav'ns are all
self-proclaimed poets who, to wow an
audience, utter some resonant lie.


Laura said...

And it would be a good name. In a burst of hubris, I would call mine "driveling monologue."

Dale said...

Laura, I do love this poem even though I'm not sure I entirely agree with it. It's tempting to filch the lines and use them -- so many good ones.