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The Two Analysis

Author: poem of W.H. Auden Type: poem Views: 16

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You are the town and we are the clock.

We are the guardians of the gate in the rock.

The Two.

On your left and on your right

In the day and in the night,

We are watching you.

Wiser not to ask just what has occurred

To them who disobeyed our word;

To those

We were the whirlpool, we were the reef,

We were the formal nightmare, grief

And the unlucky rose.

Climb up the crane, learn the sailor's words

When the ships from the islands laden with birds

Come in.

Tell your stories of fishing and other men's wives:

The expansive moments of constricted lives

In the lighted inn.

But do not imagine we do not know

Nor that what you hide with such care won't show

At a glance.

Nothing is done, nothing is said,

But don't make the mistake of believing us dead:

I shouldn't dance.

We're afraid in that case you'll have a fall.

We've been watching you over the garden wall

For hours.

The sky is darkening like a stain,

Something is going to fall like rain

And it won't be flowers.

When the green field comes off like a lid

Revealing what was much better hid:


And look, behind you without a sound

The woods have come up and are standing round

In deadly crescent.

The bolt is sliding in its groove,

Outside the window is the black removers' van.

And now with sudden swift emergence

Come the woman in dark glasses and humpbacked surgeons

And the scissors man.

This might happen any day

So be careful what you say

Or do.

Be clean, be tidy, oil the lock,

Trim the garden, wind the clock,

Remember the Two.

Submitted by Venus


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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The image conjured for me by: 'the bolt is sliding in the groove' is of a crossbow arrow (a bolt or quarrel) accelerating along the slot (the groove) in a crossbow's stock when the trigger is pulled.

| Posted on 2017-02-07 | by a guest

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I can't believe no one sees it. I guess you can read the Bible and not fear it's judgements. The two are guardian angels. What we do on earth is seen. We must be careful how we live our lives because we never know when we will die. Even a wicked man that turns from his adulterous schemes can be saved, but nothing goes unpunished. The bolt in the groove is the coffin closing, the van takes you too a funeral where women in shades to hide tears are formed in a crescent around you. The green lid is the matrix we live in, if it's not pleasant after that's gone then you're probably not in a good place.

| Posted on 2016-08-27 | by a guest

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It seems likely that the two witnesses are referring at lest in part to Revelations 11, "I will grant authority to my two witnesses..."
It's an interesting chapter to read with this poem but here's the quick version: they speak against evil people on Earth, they can call down fire -not flowers- on those who attack them (also other plagues), after 1260 days, they are killed by "the beast" and the wicked celebrate, after 3 days, they come back to life and as they leave Earth, a great quake destroys a tenth of the city. As a result, the evil inhabitants heed the drastic warning and seek righteousness.
Whatever his inspiration, I think it is a powerfully written poem acts strongly on that feeling of unstoppable judgement and nemesis felt by everyone at some point, regardless of their beliefs. Hope this helps.

| Posted on 2016-03-22 | by a guest

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I am fairly sure the 'green field' is a literal metaphor, so to speak: if the green 'covering' the field were to be removed, we would see darkness and mud and insects and worms and Auden is using this to show how things can appear to be fine - pleasant, even, but underneath, things are dark and sinister.
The "ships from the islands laden with birds" intrigues me. I think perhaps it is referring to the pilfering and draining of Third World resources - 'The Two' will stand back and condone to an extent but ultimately there will be a day where we have to account for our actions.
For my part, I love this poem - always have since I stumbled across it when I was 17 or 18. Hopefully, this does not make me like Ian Brady!

| Posted on 2014-11-04 | by a guest

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I saw the last two stanzas used at the beginning of a book on the atomic bomb. \"The green field comes off like a lid\" could refer to a missile silo, although that would depend on exactly what year the poem was written.

| Posted on 2012-02-15 | by a guest

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Interestingly, Ian Brady liked to quote this poem. When his green fields had the tops removed it certainly was unpleasant.
It\'s spooky.

| Posted on 2010-08-23 | by a guest

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In the \"Collected Poetry of W.H.Auden\" Random House, 1945 the lines the hooded women, the hump-backed surgeons
And the Scissor Man.
I personally think that version is more effective than \'woman in dark glasses.\'

| Posted on 2010-08-02 | by a guest

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Whirlpool and Reef = Cylla and Charybdis.
The clock is often oppressive in Auden.
~The scissor man; the one who cuts of the thumbs in Strwelpeter?

| Posted on 2010-02-01 | by a guest

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I stumbled upon this poem while reading "Watership Down": two of the last 3 stanzas were the little intro piece to the chapter called "The Shining Wire". I loved those two stanzas, so I tracked down the rest of this poem. Now that I've read the whole thing, I have to say, it is amazing, and it scares the hell out of me.
Who are "the two"? is the main question I'm left with after reading this. Someone you don't want to fool with. Someone evidently armed with a bolt-action rifle ("the bolt is sliding in its groove"). Someone watching our every move.
So who are the two? Are they agents of government (say, democrats + republicans, or labour + conservatives, or left + right), or are they more abstract than that?
The phrase "we are the clock" seems to say that "the two" control when things happen. They keep the schedule. That they guard the "gate in the rock" seems to be saying that they are responsible for our security. Maybe "the two" are government + military?
One line that puzzles me is "when the green field comes off like a lid." Not sure what that means. When we dig the earth? Like for a grave? Or is it talking about a different kind of green field? Like on a flag?
As for the "woman in dark glasses", the "scissor man", and the "humpbacked surgeons, I have no clue who they are. But I have a feeling the "black remover's van" is a hearse.

| Posted on 2009-05-28 | by a guest

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