'Law Like Love' by W.H. Auden

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1939Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,Law is the oneAll gardeners obeyTo-morrow, yesterday, to-day.Law is the wisdom of the old,The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,Law is the senses of the young.Law, says the priest with a priestly look,Expounding to an unpriestly people,Law is the words in my priestly book,Law is my pulpit and my steeple.Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,Speaking clearly and most severely,Law is as I've told you before,Law is as you know I suppose,Law is but let me explain it once more,Law is The Law.Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,Law is the clothes men wearAnytime, anywhere,Law is Good morning and Good night.Others say, Law is our Fate;Others say, Law is our State;Others say, others sayLaw is no more,Law has gone away.And always the loud angry crowd,Very angry and very loud,Law is We,And always the soft idiot softly Me.If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,No more than they can we suppressThe universal wish to guessOr slip out of our own positionInto an unconcerned condition.Although I can at least confineYour vanity and mineTo stating timidlyA timid similarity,We shall boast anyway:Like love I say.Like love we don't know where or why,Like love we can't compel or fly,Like love we often weep,Like love we seldom keep.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Poetry, Law Like Love: A Critical Interpretation

W.H. Auden's "Law Like Love" is a poetic masterpiece that delves deep into the fundamental nature of law and how it relates to love. The poem is a complex exploration of the ways in which we understand and experience these two powerful forces, and raises important questions about their similarities and differences.

At its core, "Law Like Love" is a meditation on the nature of justice. Auden opens the poem with the assertion that "Law, say the gardeners, is the sun," implying that law is an essential force that gives life and sustenance to everything around us. However, he quickly complicates this metaphor by adding, "Law is the one / All gardeners obey / To-morrow, yesterday, to-day."

This is a striking statement, as it suggests that law is not simply a natural force like the sun, but rather something that is imposed upon us by authority. It raises important questions about the legitimacy of law and the relationship between law and power.

Auden goes on to explore these questions in more detail, asking whether law is a product of human nature, or whether it is something that exists independently of us. He writes, "Law is the wisdom of the old, / The impotent grandfathers feebly scold," suggesting that law is a product of tradition and the accumulated wisdom of our ancestors.

However, he also acknowledges that law is often used as a means of oppressing people, writing, "All things fall and are built again, / And those that build them again are gay." This implies that law can be used as a tool of oppression, but that it can also be a force for change and progress.

Throughout the poem, Auden contrasts law with love, highlighting the ways in which they are similar and different. He writes, "Love, say the poets, is the voice of God," suggesting that love is a divine force that transcends human understanding.

However, he also acknowledges that love can be a destructive force, writing, "Love is the burning point of life, / And, since all life is sorrowful, / So is love." This suggests that love can be painful and difficult, just like law.

At the same time, Auden suggests that love and law are fundamentally different, writing, "Love is the unfamiliar Name / Behind the hands that wove / The intolerable shirt of flame / Which human power cannot remove." This suggests that love is a mysterious and elusive force that cannot be fully understood or controlled, while law is a more concrete and tangible force that can be manipulated and shaped by human beings.

Ultimately, "Law Like Love" is a deeply philosophical and thought-provoking poem that raises important questions about the nature of justice, power, and human experience. Through its complex explorations of law and love, Auden challenges us to think more deeply about the forces that shape our lives, and to consider the ways in which they are both similar and different.

Perhaps most importantly, Auden encourages us to remember that both law and love are essential forces in our lives, and that we must strive to use them wisely and compassionately if we are to build a just and equitable society. As he writes, "Law, like love, is a power we do not understand / We only know when we are held in its hand."

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry Law Like Love: A Masterpiece by W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden, one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, wrote a masterpiece called "Poetry Law Like Love." This poem is a profound exploration of the nature of poetry and its relationship with the human experience. It is a complex and multi-layered work that requires careful analysis to fully appreciate its depth and beauty.

The poem begins with the assertion that "poetry makes nothing happen." This statement may seem paradoxical, as poetry is often associated with powerful emotions and transformative experiences. However, Auden is not suggesting that poetry is without value or significance. Rather, he is pointing out that poetry is not a practical tool for achieving concrete goals or solving problems. Poetry does not build bridges or cure diseases, but it can provide solace, inspiration, and insight.

Auden goes on to compare poetry to love, another intangible force that can have a profound impact on our lives. He writes, "it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / Would never want to tamper, flows on south / From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs, / Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives, / A way of happening, a mouth."

Here, Auden is suggesting that poetry, like love, is a force that cannot be controlled or manipulated by those in power. It exists in a realm beyond the reach of executives and politicians, in the "valley of its making" where it flows freely and unencumbered. Poetry is a way of happening, a mouth that speaks truth to power and gives voice to the experiences of those who are often silenced.

Auden then goes on to explore the relationship between poetry and the human experience. He writes, "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." Here, Auden is suggesting that there are forces at work in our lives that we cannot fully comprehend or control. These forces shape our experiences and determine our fate, whether we are aware of them or not.

However, Auden also suggests that poetry has the power to help us make sense of these forces and find meaning in our lives. He writes, "We who have walked in darkness, who have seen / The light and lain down in it, / We who have been blinded and buffeted, / Knocked down and risen again, / We for whom the past has become the present, / Viewed the future in the mirror of the past, / We who have seen the world collapse and been / Unable to prevent it, / Will feel a sudden clarity / As if a shaft of light had pierced the darkness."

Here, Auden is suggesting that poetry can provide us with a sudden clarity, a moment of insight that helps us make sense of our experiences and find meaning in them. Poetry can help us see the world in a new light, and give us the strength to rise again after being knocked down.

Finally, Auden concludes the poem with the assertion that "poetry makes nothing happen." However, he adds, "it survives / A way of happening, a mouth." Here, Auden is suggesting that poetry may not have a tangible impact on the world, but it is still a vital force that gives voice to our experiences and helps us make sense of the world around us.

In conclusion, "Poetry Law Like Love" is a masterpiece of modern poetry that explores the nature of poetry and its relationship with the human experience. Auden's use of language is masterful, and his insights into the power of poetry are profound. This poem is a testament to the enduring importance of poetry as a way of happening, a mouth that speaks truth to power and gives voice to the experiences of those who are often silenced.

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