Poem introduction

It had become clear really that the Second World War was coming if you were following things - that's why politics are relevant. But you may say what has this rather louche love affair got to do with the politics. Oh, well you see these things were meant to be - to cut out all the irrelevancies and say the obvious, weren't meant to be difficult but when it's so far away and so long ago you naturally need footnotes a bit. Any young man who was working in Japan then would have seen that point - they felt it was very unwise to marry a Japanese lady if you were quite sure the countries were soon going to be at war - that's what the politics and love affair have to do with each other.

Aubade

Aubade

Hours before dawn we were woken by the quake.
My house was on a cliff. The thing could take
Bookloads off shelves, break bottles in a row.
Then the long pause and then the bigger shake.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

And far too large for my feet to step by.
I hoped that various buildings were brought low.
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

It seemed quite safe till she got up and dressed.
The guarded tourist makes the guide the test.
Then I said The Garden? Laughing she said No.
Taxi for her and for me healthy rest.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

The language problem but you have to try.
Some solid ground for lying could she show?
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

None of these deaths were her point at all.
The thing was that being woken he would bawl
And finding her not in earshot he would know.
I tried saying half an hour to pay this call.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

I slept, and blank as that I would yet lie.
Till you have seen what a threat holds below,
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

Tell me again about Europe and her pains,
Who's tortured by the drought, who by the rains.
Glut me with floods where only the swine can row
Who cuts his throat and let him count his gains.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

A bedshift flight to Far Eastern sky.
Only the same war on a stronger toe.
The heart of standing is you cannot fly.

Tell me more quickly what I lost by this,
Or tell me with less drama what they miss
Who call no die a god for a good throw,
Who say after two aliens and one kiss
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.

But as to risings, I can tell you why.
It is on contradiction that they grow.
It seemed the best thing to be up and go.
Up was the heartening and strong reply.
The heart of standing is we cannot fly.


from The Complete Poems (Penguin Modern Classics, 2001), copyright © William Empson, reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd, London on behalf of the Estate of William Empson. Recording used by permission of the BBC.

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