Thanksgiving for a Habitat

Thanksgiving for a Habitat

Poem 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.