IN MEMORY OF ERNST TOLLER (d. May 1939)
‘Stop all the clocks,’ Auden wrote about a lover. This on the playwright, political activist, who committed suicide when his brother and sister were put in a German concentration camp, captures Toller’s importance as a Humanist and Pacifist.
The shining neutral summer has no voice
To judge America, or ask how a man dies;
And the friends who are sad and the enemies who rejoice
Are chased by their shadows lightly away from the grave
Of one who was egotistical and brave,
Lest they should learn without suffering how to forgive.
What was it, Ernst, that your shadow unwittingly said?
O did the child see something horrid in the woodshed
Long ago? Or had the Europe which took refuge in your head
Already been too injured to get well?
O for how long,like the swallows in that other cell,
Had the bright little longings been flying in to tell
About the big friendly death outside,
Where people do not occupy or hide;
No towns like Munich; no need to write?
Dear Ernst, lie shadowless at last among
The other war-horses who existed till they’d done
Something that was an example to the young.
We are lived by powers we pretend to understand:
They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end
The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand.
It is their tomorrow hangs over the earth of the living
And all that we wish for our friends; but existing is believing
We know for whom we mourn and who is grieving.
WH Auden is the poet I enjoy, next to Shakespeare, and I chose to study him for part of my final teaching year in Chester, 1970. Discovered he is the voice in the pivotal moment from Four Weddings and a Funeral, just today.