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Thanksgiving for a Habitat by W H Auden

Nobody I know would like to be buried
with a silver cocktail-shaker,
a transistor radio and a strangled
daily help, or keep his word because
of a great-great-grandmother who got laid
by a sacred beast. Only a press lord
could have built San Simeon: no unearned income
can buy us back the gait and gestures
to manage a baroque staircase, or the art
of believing footmen don’t hear
human speech. (In adulterine castles
our half-strong might hang their jackets
while mending their lethal bicycle-chains:
luckily, there are not enough
crags to go round.) Still, Hetty Pegler’s Tump
is worth a visit, so is Schönbrunn,
to look at someone’s idea of the body
that should have been his, as the flesh
Mum formulated shouldn’t: that whatever
he does or feels in the mood for,
stock-taking, horse-play, worship, making love,
he stays the same shape, disgraces
a Royal I. To be over-admired is not
good enough: although a fine figure
is rare in either sex, others like it
have existed before. One may
be a Proustian snob or a sound Jacksonian
democrat, but which of us wants
to be touched inadvertently, even
by his beloved? We know all about graphs
and Darwin, enormous rooms no longer
superhumanise, but earnest
city-planners are mistaken: a pen
for a rational animal
is no fitting habitat for Adam’s
sovereign clone. I, a transplant
from overseas, at last am dominant
over three acres and a blooming
conurbation of country lives, few of whom
I shall ever meet, and with fewer
converse. Linnaeus recoiled from the Amphibia
as a naked gruesome rabble,
Arachnids give me the shudders, but fools
who deface their emblem of guilt
are germane to Hitler: the race of spiders
shall be allowed their webs. I should like
to be to my water-brethren as a spell
of fine weather: Many are stupid,
and some, maybe, are heartless, but who is not
vulnerable, easy to scare,
and jealous of his privacy? (I am glad
the blackbird, for instance, cannot
tell if I’m talking English, German or
just typewriting: that what he utters
I may enjoy as an alien rigmarole.) I ought
to outlast the limber dragonflies
as the muscle-bound firs are certainly
going to outlast me: I shall not end
down any oesophagus, though I may succumb
to a filter-passing predator,
shall, anyhow, stop eating, surrender my smidge
of nitrogen to the World Fund
with a drawn-out Oh (unless at the nod
of some jittery commander
I be translated in a nano-second
to a c.c. of poisonous nothing
in a giga-death). Should conventional
blunderbuss war and its routiers
invest my bailiwick, I shall of course
assume the submissive posture:
but men are not wolves and it probably
won’t help. Territory, status,
and love, sing all the birds, are what matter:
what I dared not hope or fight for
is, in my fifties, mine, a toft-and-croft
where I needn’t, ever, be at home to
those I am not at home with, not a cradle,
a magic Eden without clocks,
and not a windowless grave, but a place
I may go both in and out of.


The End

And that’s the End of the Poem

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