Friday, February 17, 2023




(for Isaiah Berlin)
A lake allows an average father, walking slowly
  To circumvent it in an afternoon,
And any healthy mother to halloo the children
  Back to her bedtime from their games across:
(Anything bigger than that, like Michigan or Baikal,
  Though potable, is an "estranging sea").

Lake-folk require no fiend to keep them on their toes;
  They leave aggression to ill-bred romantics
Who duel with their shadows over blasted heaths:
  A month in a lacustrine atmosphere
Would find the fluvial rivals waltzing not exchanging
  The rhyming insults of their great-great-uncles.

No wonder Christendom did not get really started
  Till, scarred by torture, white from caves and jails,
Her pensive chiefs converged on the Ascanian Lake
  And by that stork-infested shore invented
The life of Godhead, making catholic the figure
  Of three small fishes in a triangle.

Sly Foreign Ministers should always meet beside one,
  For, whether they walk widdershins or deasil,
The path will yoke their shoulders to one liquid centre
  Like two old donkeys pumping as they plod;
Such physical compassion may not guarantee
  A marriage for their armies, but it helps.

-W. H. Auden

Well, that's only the first half of the poem, but since I'm typing this late, that's all I'm going to do for now. 😉 It's a favourite of mine, since I've lived most of my life near lakes, though more of the 'estranging sea' variety--first Michigan, and now Ontario. 

The Ascanian Lake is an allusion to the First Council of Nicaea. Widdershins and deasil are Auden using show-off-y words for clockwise and counter-clockwise. But who am I to complain?

A Northern Ontario lake that one could actually halloo across:


  1. I've always thought it would be nice to live by a lake. :D