If he would leave the self alone,
Apollo’s welcome to the throne,
Fasces and falcons;
He loves to rule, has always done it;
The earth would soon, did Hermes run it,
Be like the Balkans.
But jealous of our god of dreams,
His common-sense in secret schemes
To rule the heart;
Unable to invent the lyre,
Creates with simulated fire
And when he occupies a college,
Truth is replaced by Useful Knowledge;
He pays particular
Attention to Commercial Thought,
Public Relations, Hygiene, Sport,
In his curricula.
Athletic, extrovert and crude,
For him, to work in solitude
Is the offence,
The goal a populous Nirvana:
His shield bears this device: Mens sana
Qui mal y pense.
In our morale must lie our strength:
So, that we may behold at length
Battalions melt away like fog,
Keep well the Hermetic Decalogue,
Which runs as follows:–
Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,
Thou shalt not write thy doctor’s thesis
Thou shalt not worship projects nor
Shalt thou or thine bow down before
Thou shalt not answer questionnaires
Or quizzes upon World-Affairs,
Nor with compliance
Take any test. Thou shalt not sit
With statisticians nor commit
A social science.
Thou shalt not be on friendly terms
With guys in advertising firms,
Nor speak with such
As read the Bible for its prose,
Nor, above all, make love to those
Who wash too much.
Thou shalt not live within thy means
Nor on plain water and raw greens.
If thou must choose
Between the chances, choose the odd;
Read The New Yorker, trust in God;
And take short views.
W.H. Auden, Under Which Lyre, subtitled A Reactionary Tract for the Times, debuted as a Phi Beta Kappa Poem, Harvard, 1946.
During his visit, Auden met James Conant, then the president of Harvard and a man associated with the Apollonian transformation of the modern university, its remaking as a scientific-technical powerhouse with its old religious and humanistic purposes hollowed out. “‘This is the real enemy,’ I thought to myself,” Auden wrote of the encounter. “And I’m sure he had the same impression about me.”
Lord, count me among the Hermetics when Thou comest into Thy kingdom (if I’m not too far gone already).
* * * * *
Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.