We Must Love One Another or Die

isherwood and auden.jpg
Christopher Isherwood and W. H. Auden shortly before leaving for China, 1938

 

Here War Is Simple

From Journey To A War
by W. H. Auden

Here war is simple like a monument:
A telephone is speaking to a man;
Flags on a map assert that troops were sent;
A boy brings milk in bowls. There is a plan

For living men in terror of their lives,
Who thirst at nine who were to thirst at noon,
And can be lost and are, and miss their wives,
And, unlike an idea, can die too soon.

But ideas can be true although men die,
And we can watch a thousand faces
Made active by one lie:

And maps can really point to places
Where life is evil now:
Nanking. Dachau.


I was struck watching Trump on television last night how devalued reasoned facts have become in the United States. It used to be that Western Democracies beat their chests with arrogance and pointed to China, Cuba and Russia as guilty of brain washing their citizens, puffing out our collective chests with pride that the West had some kind of monopoly on free speech and truth. We certainly still have free speech, but we are failing as a society in ways to find common ground in our politics and unfortunately free speech is the tip of the spear disemboweling our democracy. The Trump era has proven that politicians can lie, say things that are completely idiotic, pursue mindless and pointless agendas and if your message polls high enough and your shills in the media like Fox News will repeat the idiocy enough times, you can brain wash enough to people to get elected. The Republicans didn’t become the gutless, brain-dead army of mindless conservatives overnight, who fall for the fear and loathing of Trump’s leadership. It arose because the Democrats have failed miserably in their opportunity for leadership by creating a system that wanted to coddle business and create a bloated federal bureaucracy at the same time. Neither the Democrats or Republicans are fiscally responsible. It is possible to be either liberal or conservative and pay our bills, spend within our means. It’s also possible to lead with vision not fear. Its time a new party, rise up with a real vision of a better, peaceful more sustainable future, or the insidious nature of lies will smolder to unleash further damage to what feels like is a world on the edge of anarchy.

I am hopeful that Trump as the giant boil on our nation’s ass, is going to swell enough to get finally lanced in 2020.   And that as our children’s generation takes center stage in political influence, they will turn the course back to civil discourse, an honest attempt at directing the nation to where we agree and have common ground on 80 percent of the issues.  And provide a more nuanced approach in negotiating with each other on where we disagree on the 20 percent of policy initiatives and stop this ridiculousness of politicians acting like spoiled children when they don’t get their way.

Auden is a reminder of how ugly the world can become if that 20 percent is allowed to fester to the point that evil takes the upper hand and men unworthy of leadership are allowed to become demigods. It is dangerous times we live in, only because the power of war has never been so dangerous.  We best not leave the keys to the military lying around where some fool might take it for a joy ride.


September 1, 1939

by W. H. Auden

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
‘I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,’
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

 

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A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations.

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