Poem of the Week: W. H. Auden's The Labyrinth

The Labyrinth
by W.H. Auden

Anthropos apteros for days
Walked whistling round and round the Maze,
Relying happily upon
His temperament for getting on.

The hundredth time he sighted, though,
A bush he left an hour ago,
He halted where four alleys crossed,
And recognized that he was lost.

"Where am I? Metaphysics says
No question can be asked unless
It has an answer, so I can
Assume this maze has got a plan.

If theologians are correct,
A Plan implies an Architect:
A God-built maze would be, I'm sure,
The Universe in miniature.

Are data from the world of Sense,
In that case, valid evidence?
What in the universe I know
Can give directions how to go?

All Mathematics would suggest
A steady straight line as the best,
But left and right alternately
Is consonant with History.

Aesthetics, though, believes all Art
Intends to gratify the Heart:
Rejecting disciplines like these,
Must I, then, go which way I please?

Such reasoning is only true
If we accept the classic view,
Which we have no right to assert,
According to the Introvert.

His absolute pre-supposition
Is--Man creates his own condition:
This maze was not divinely built,
But is secreted by my guilt.

The centre that I cannot find
Is known to my Unconscious Mind;
I have no reason to despair
Because I am already there.

My problem is how not to will;
They move most quickly who stand still;
I'm only lost until I see
I'm lost because I want to be.

If this should fail, perhaps I should,
As certain educators would,
Content myself with the conclusion;
In theory there is no solution.

All statements about what I feel,
Like I-am-lost, are quite unreal:
My knowledge ends where it began;
A hedge is taller than a man."

Anthropos apteros, perplexed
To know which turning to take next,
Looked up and wished he were the bird
To whom such doubts must seem absurd.

Tags

More like this

It's a very nice letter to Nature. I especially like the last line. We were perplexed by your Editorial on the work of the Templeton Foundation ('Templeton's legacy' Nature 454, 253-254; 2008). Surely science is about finding material explanations of the world -- explanations that can inspire those…
There's a new book out about Karl Rove called The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power. One of the stories in the book comes from a former professor from Fordham named Deal Hudson, who was hired by Rove to help court the Catholic vote for Bush. Hudson described an actual…
Today is Stephanie Zvan's birthday. Instead of giving he the usual trinkets or consumables, a few of us got together and did something different. We pooled some resources and gave Stephanie a miniature. A miniature what you say? A miniature non profit! How does that work? Click here to find…
Word is the proposal on the table at the International Astronomical Union meeting in Prague calls for a new definition of planet that would widen the category to include Ceres, Charon and "Xena." I say, bring it on! Why? Because change is good. It sends a great message to schoolkids everywhere:…