A friend of mine has complained that I relate everything we discuss to Auden. Being so quotable, he’s become a kind of conversational Deus ex Machina, occasionally allowing me to score some cheap points or short-circuit a debate with an aesthetically pleasing quip (or poignant remark. Rhymed.). And… it’s true. But… hey, you know what? I just watched Dr. Strangelove and… I’m just saying…
It’s farewell to the drawing-room’s civilized cry,
The professor’s sensible whereto and why,
The frock-coated diplomat’s social aplomb,
Now matters are settled with gas and with bomb.
The works for two pianos, the brilliant stories
Of reasonable giants and remarkable fairies,
The pictures, the ointments, the frangible wares
And the branches of olive are stored upstairs.
For the Devil has broken parole and arisen,
He has dynamited his way out of prison,
Out of the well where his Papa throws
The rebel angel, the outcast rose.
Like influenza he walks abroad,
He stands by the bridge, he waits by the ford,
As a goose or a gull he flies overhead,
He hides in the cupboard and under the bed.
O where he to triumph, dear heart, you know
To what depths of shame he would drag you low;
He would steal you away from me, yes, my dear,
He would steal you and cut off your beautiful hair.
Millions already have come to their harm,
Succumbing like doves to his adder’s charm;
Hundreds of trees in the wood are unsound:
I’m the axe that must cut them down to the ground.
For I, after all, am the Fortunate One,
The Happy-Go-Lucky, the spoilt Third Son;
For me it is written the Devil to chase
And to rid the earth of the human race.
The behaving of man is a world of horror,
A sedentary Sodom and a slick Gomorrah;
I must take charge of the liquid fire
And storm the cities of human desire.
The buying and selling, the eating and drinking,
The disloyal machines and irreverent thinking,
The lovely dullards again and again
Inspiring their bitter ambitious men.
I shall come, I shall punish, the Devil be dead,
I shall have caviar thick on my bread,
I shall build myself a cathedral for home
With a vacuum cleaner in every room.
I shall ride the parade in a platinum car,
My features will shine, my name will be Star,
Day-long and night-long the bells I shall peal,
And down the long street I shall turn the cartwheel.
So Little John, Long John, Peter and Paul,
And poor little Horace with only one ball,
You shall leave your breakfast, your desk and your play
Of a fine summer morning the Devil to slay.
For it’s order and trumpet and anger and drum
And power and glory command you to come;
The graves will fly open and let you all in,
And the earth will be emptied of mortal sin.
The fishes are silent deep in the sea.
The skies are lit up like a Christmas tree,
The star in the West shoots its warning cry:
“Mankind is alive, but Mankind must die.”
So good-bye to the house with its wallpaper red,
Good-bye to the sheets on the warm double bed,
Good-bye to the beautiful birds on the wall,
It’s good-bye, dear heart, good-bye to you all.
* “Danse Macabre,” 1937. For the first stanza I’ve chosen to keep the original phrasing from Another Time (1940), because “sensible” and “civilized” describe the scenario so nicely. I’ve left out the same two stanzas Auden later cut, though. *Anarchy*