Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Since we are indulging in fillers until I get writing again, a poem from W. H. Auden. Yes, another all-time favourite.

The More Loving One
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total darkness sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
UPDATE - Thought I'd put down some of my thoughts as to why I like this poem.
There is no breathtaking sweep about the poem and neither is there stunning imagery. The language is all the more conspicuous by its lack of disguise. No, this is a poem straight from the heart, without any gimmickry of the literal sort.
Auden asks us to keep our expectations at the door with the first two lines. No, he seems to say, it's a simple one this time, listen well, and oh, in case you didn't notice, I'm still rhyming*.
Indifference is nothing, Auden posits. What's more difficult is dealing with feelings of affection and admiration -- even love -- when the object of those feelings does not reciprocate in equal measure. Hence, the title. No, this is not about indifference. No, this is not about unrequited love. This is about distance. And pride. And that's where the reference to "stars" comes into the picture. Why "stars"? Why not something else? Auden perhaps wishes to tap into the notions of distance and exaltation that we commonly associate with stars. Perhaps the object of his affections is not distant in a physical sense but is more immediate and out of reach, out of his league maybe, and he can only stand and admire from afar.
I like the poem for the way Auden stands and reflects on this emotional precipice, threatening to plunge down into self-pity. In the end, he restrains himself nobly but for the two lines that mark the poem out - If equal affection cannot be / Let the more loving one be me. He gives in, acknowledges that he's the one at fault for seeking an "affection" that cannot be "equal" in the first line, and then in the very next line, redeems himself by asking permission (in a voice that would be quiet and soft I would imagine and without melodrama) for a subsidiary position, which in fact places him on a higher plain plane, morally and psychologically.
The rest of the poem is about how Auden, having voluntarily relegated his feelings, sustains his pride despite the blow to his self-esteem that such an acknowledgement would obviously deal have dealt. He says how, despite admiring his stars, he cannot bring himself to "say / I missed one terribly all day." There is something about the words he uses -- "go to hell" and "don't give a damn" -- which gives us a clue about the true nature of these stars of his and where he stands with them. We've all been there, where ego takes over and seeks to heal the wounds of the heart. How we don't say what we should lest we appear "clingy". Confessions are to be private and even then only within the closed confines of one's conscience. Communication of such confessions to the object of one's affection (especially when they "don't give a damn") are not to be engaged in, lest the self injures itself further. No, one can't afford to appear needy. It is beneath one's dignity, despite what one feels otherwise. That seems to be Auden's stance.
Finally, Auden seems to conjecture - what would happen if the stars were to "disappear or die" and concludes that even if it takes "a little time", he would "learn to look at an empty sky / And feel its total darkness sublime". That, all said and done, all affection is ephemeral -- stars do die, for whatever reasons -- and we have to live with our selves, even if it takes time and patience, and that solitude sometimes is neither refuge nor escape but the only way to live in a complicated world.
Brilliant pithy poem. Shows how an emotion should be carefully examined and nurtured into words.
* - A friend once told me that he looked down upon poems which rhymed. In his opinion, a rhyme scheme always forced the poet to settle for effect rather than concentrate on meaning. Of course, he liked free verse. But I wish he would read Auden. If not for anything, for the effortless ease with which Auden rhymes and makes it sound all so natural, without compromising on the content.


Anonymous said...

as i said earlier - lovely poem. i was going to put it on mine but as usual you pre-empted me :P X(

musafir said...


Don't even think about it :)

~SuCh~ said...

Liked the concluding lines... although I interpreted it in a different way...

As for rhyme and depth, I feel some old folk songs that rhyme carry more depth than modern poetry that slumps due to its own weight...
Have heard someone else say the same thing about rhyming poetry...

musafir said...


There's a small possibility that we could be talking about the same person.

Would be interesting to hear what you have to say about the concluding lines.

Samudraa said...

If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.


musafir said...



~SuCh~ said...

my interpretation was not very different from yours...

"Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day."

Love you, as I might, and long for your reciprocation, as I do, but my affection is not objective. To me,the emotion, and the pain is closer than the object of it.

"Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total darkness sublime,
Though this might take me a little time"

My affection , i.e the emotion shall suffer an expected bruise, were the object of it to move, but nevertheless I shall love, with or withou you. Even your absense and the pain it would cause would fill me with an emotion akin to the soothing peace of the dark.

I didnt think of solitude in the sense you had, with the last few lines..

I have always digressed from the accepted version of poetry, right from school days, not pleasing everyone concerned..

Maybe it isnt my cuppa :)

LUCKY said...

Well, Talking about poems which rhyme, I like the one below.

The Flower

Once in a golden hour
I cast to earth a seed.
Up there came a flower,
The people said, a weed.

To and fro they went
Thro' my garden bower,
And muttering discontent
Cursed me and my flower.

Then it grew so tall
It wore a crown of light,
But thieves from o'er the wall
Stole the seed by night.

Sow'd it far and wide
By every town and tower,
Till all the people cried,
"Splendid is the flower!"

Read my little fable:
He that runs may read.
Most can raise the flowers now,
For all have got the seed.

And some are pretty enough,
And some are poor indeed;
And now again the people
Call it but a weed.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

- I am captured by the irony portrayed in the last para :)

vestige of the world said...

Why is it that i stumble upon something beautiful whenever i feel dejected?
I have no answers.Maybe i'm too naive to explain it.