(in The Age of Anxiety)

W. H. Auden

(for Giovanni Maresca)


Old saints on millstones float with cats
     To islands out at sea
Whereon no female pelvis can
     Threaten their agape.

Beyond the long arm of the Law,
     Close to a shipping road,
Pirates in their island lairs
     Observe the pirate code.

Obsession with security
     In Sovereigns prevails;
His Highness and the People both
     Pick islands for their jails.

Once, where detected worldlings now
     Do penitential jobs,
Exterminated species played
     Who had not read their Hobbes.

His continental damage done,
     Laid on an island shelf,
Napoleon has five years more
     To talk about himself.

How fascinating is that class
     Whose only member is Me!
Sappho, Tiberius and I
     Hold forth beside the sea.

What is cosier than the shore
     Of a lake turned inside out?
How do all these other people
     Dare to be about?

In democratic nudity
     Their sexes lie; except
By age or weight you could not tell
     The keeping from the kept.

They go, she goes, thou goest, I go
     To a mainland livelihood:
Farmer and fisherman complain
     The other has it good.

August 1953