In Memory of Sigmund Freud

W. H. Auden

 
When there are so many we shall have to mourn,
when grief has been made so public, and exposed
     to the critique of a whole epoch
   the frailty of our conscience and anguish,
of whom shall we speak? For every day they die
among us, those who were doing us some good,
     who knew it was never enough but
   hoped to improve a little by living.
Such was this doctor: still at eighty he wished
to think of our life from whose unruliness
     so many plausible young futures
   with threats or flattery ask obedience,
but his wish was denied him: he closed his eyes
upon that last picture, common to us all,
     of problems like relatives gathered
   puzzled and jealous about our dying.
For about him till the very end were still
those he had studied, the fauna of the night,
     and shades that still waited to enter
   the bright circle of his recognition
turned elsewhere with their disappointment as he
was taken away from his life interest
     to go back to the earth in London,
   an important Jew who died in exile.
Only Hate was happy, hoping to augment
his practice now, and his dingy clientele
     who think they can be cured by killing
   and covering the garden with ashes.
They are still alive, but in a world he changed
simply by looking back with no false regrets;
     all he did was to remember
   like the old and be honest like children.
He wasn't clever at all: he merely told
the unhappy Present to recite the Past
     like a poetry lesson till sooner
   or later it faltered at the line where
long ago the accusations had begun,
and suddenly knew by whom it had been judged,
     how rich life had been and how silly,
   and was life-forgiven and more humble,
able to approach the Future as a friend
without a wardrobe of excuses, without
     a set mask of rectitude or an
   embarrassing over-familiar gesture.
No wonder the ancient cultures of conceit
in his technique of unsettlement foresaw
     the fall of princes, the collapse of
   their lucrative patterns of frustration:
if he succeeded, why, the Generalised Life
would become impossible, the monolith
     of State be broken and prevented
   the co-operation of avengers.
Of course they called on God, but he went his way
down among the lost people like Dante, down
     to the stinking fosse where the injured
   lead the ugly life of the rejected,
and showed us what evil is, not, as we thought,
deeds that must be punished, but our lack of faith,
     our dishonest mood of denial,
   the concupiscence of the oppressor.
If some traces of the autocratic pose,
the paternal strictness he distrusted, still
     clung to his utterance and features,
   it was a protective coloration
for one who'd lived among enemies so long:
if often he was wrong and, at times, absurd,
     to us he is no more a person
   now but a whole climate of opinion
under whom we conduct our different lives:
Like weather he can only hinder or help,
     the proud can still be proud but find it
   a little harder, the tyrant tries to
make do with him but doesn't care for him much:
he quietly surrounds all our habits of growth
     and extends, till the tired in even
   the remotest miserable duchy
have felt the change in their bones and are cheered
till the child, unlucky in his little State,
     some hearth where freedom is excluded,
   a hive whose honey is fear and worry,
feels calmer now and somehow assured of escape,
while, as they lie in the grass of our neglect,
     so many long-forgotten objects
   revealed by his undiscouraged shining
are returned to us and made precious again;
games we had thought we must drop as we grew up,
     little noises we dared not laugh at,
   faces we made when no one was looking.
But he wishes us more than this. To be free
is often to be lonely. He would unite
     the unequal moieties fractured
   by our own well-meaning sense of justice,
would restore to the larger the wit and will
the smaller possesses but can only use
     for arid disputes, would give back to
   the son the mother's richness of feeling:
but he would have us remember most of all
to be enthusiastic over the night,
     not only for the sense of wonder
   it alone has to offer, but also
because it needs our love. With large sad eyes
its delectable creatures look up and beg
     us dumbly to ask them to follow:
   they are exiles who long for the future
that lives in our power, they too would rejoice
if allowed to serve enlightenment like him,
     even to bear our cry of 'Judas',
   as he did and all must bear who serve it.
One rational voice is dumb. Over his grave
the household of Impulse mourns one dearly loved:
     sad is Eros, builder of cities,
   and weeping anarchic Aphrodite.
 
From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd.

Poems by This Author

As I Walked Out One Evening by W. H. Auden
As I walked out one evening,
Epitaph on a Tyrant by W. H. Auden
Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
First Things First by W. H. Auden
Friday's Child by W. H. Auden
In Memory of W. B. Yeats by W. H. Auden
He disappeared in the dead of winter:
Lullaby by W. H. Auden
Lay Your Sleeping head, my love,
On Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics by W. H. Auden
On the Circuit by W. H. Auden
Among pelagian travelers,
September 1, 1939 by W. H. Auden
I sit in one of the dives
The Fall of Rome by W. H. Auden
The piers are pummelled by the waves;
The More Loving One by W. H. Auden
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
The Shield of Achilles by W. H. Auden
She looked over his shoulder
The Unknown Citizen by W. H. Auden
He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be


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