“Here on the cropped grass of the narrow ridge I stand” (Auden)
The poem is a burden upon Empire, concluding with the Christian exhortation to “Love one another.”
Westward is Wales
The central image of the first stanza is the place of “the retired and rich;” the opposite of this is “a sailor’s country.”
thinking of a crime
The second stanza is Audenesque in its peculiar inner construction on “crime,” which throws “the perfect setting of our meditations” into some disarray.
While we were kissing
Next is a description of economic depression not in accord with nature.
A digit of the crowd.
Emerging from this, he considers the consequences.
Deaf to the Welsh wind now
And finds a more objective viewpoint.
before the Cambrian alignment
This suggests the overthrow prepared by “The high thin rare continuous worship Of the self-absorbed.”
the image of the reconciler
The seventh stanza figures first the fate of Greece (“The civilization of the delicate olive”) and then of Rome, ending in “The cell, dividing, multiplied desire,” which is to say the splitting of the Empire into the nations of Europe. Then come the most extraordinary lines of this extraordinary poem, which tersely posit the fate of those nations: “And raised instead of death the image Of the reconciler.”
the thunder mutters
Now begins the burden proper, formally echoing Eliot. Falsehood, death, luxury and idleness are its tenor.
Playing at fathers
And it ends in “foolish graves.”
to return alive
Finally, Auden is brought to a clear statement of his position, or situation, or dilemma. He quotes a position and a situation from two other writers in the last stanza, and to his dilemma finds the Gospel a ready help.