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Ode to the Medieval Poets

Updated: Jan 15, 2022

Composed by W.H. Auden


Chaucer, Langland, Douglas, Dunbar, with all your

brother Anons, how on earth did you ever manage,

without anaesthetics or plumbing,

in daily peril from witches, warlocks,

lepers, The Holy Office, foreign mercenaries

burning as they came, to write so cheerfully,

with no grimaces of self-pathos?

Long-winded you could be but not vulgar,

bawdy but not grubby, your raucous flytings

sheer high-spirited fun, whereas our makers,

beset by every creature comfort,

immune, they believe, to all superstitions,

even at their best are so often morose or

kinky, petrified by their gorgon egos.

We all ask, but I doubt if anyone

can really say why all age-groups should find our

Age quite so repulsive. Without its heartless

engines, though, you could not tenant my book-shelves,

on hand to delect my ear and chuckle

my sad flesh: I would gladly just now be

turning out verses to applaud a thundery

jovial June when the judas-tree is in blossom,

but am forbidden by the knowledge

that you would have wrought them so much better.

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