Detective Story

February 19, 2007 at 1:15 pm Leave a comment

W.H. Auden


Who is ever quite without his landscape,
The straggling village street, the house in trees,
All near the church? Or else, the gloomy town-house,
The one with the Corinthian pillars, or
The tiny workmanlike flat, in any case
A home, a centre where the three or four things
That happen to a man do happen?
Who cannot draw the map of his life, shade in
The country station where he meets his loves
And says good-bye continually, mark the spot
Where the body of his happiness was first discovered?

An unknown tramp? A magnate? An enigma always,
With a well-buried past: and when the truth,
The truth about our happiness comes out,
How much it owed to blackmail and philandering.

What follows is habitual. All goes to plan:
The feud between the local common sense
And intuition, that exasperating amateur
Who’s always on the spot by chance before us;
All goes to plan, both lying and confession,
Down to the thrilling final chase, the kill.

Yet, on the last page, a lingering doubt:
The verdict, was it just? The judge’s nerves,
That clue, that protestation from the gallows,
And our own smile…why, yes….

But time is always guilty. Someone must pay for
Our loss of happiness, our happiness itself.

Crime fiction, meet poetry.  I love how Auden captures the lineaments of the genre here, creating a sense that this is a story you’ve read before. And I love “The feud between the local common sense / and intuition, that exasperating amateur / who’s always on the scene before us”



Entry filed under: English, Falstaff, Wystan Hugh Auden.

Under Sirius September 1, 1939

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