Bradford Graves

In Praise of Limestone

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In Praise Of Limestone

W.H. Auden

If it form the one landscape that we, the inconstant ones,

Are consistently homesick for, this is chiefly

Because it dissolves in water. Mark these rounded slopes

With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,

A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs

That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,

Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving

Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain

The butterfly and the lizard; examine this region

Of short distances and definite places:

What could be more like Mother or a fitter background

For her son, the flirtatious male who lounges

Against a rock in the sunlight, never doubting

That for all his faults he is loved; whose works are but

Extensions of his power to charm? From weathered outcrop

To hill-top temple, from appearing waters to

Conspicuous fountains, from a wild to a formal vineyard,

Are ingenious but short steps that a child's wish

To receive more attention than his brothers, whether

By pleasing or teasing, can easily take.

Watch, then, the band of rivals as they climb up and down

Their steep stone gennels in twos and threes, at times

Arm in arm, but never, thank God, in step; or engaged

On the shady side of a square at midday in

Voluble discourse, knowing each other too well to think

There are any important secrets, unable

To conceive a god whose temper-tantrums are moral

And not to be pacified by a clever line

Or a good lay: for accustomed to a stone that responds,

They have never had to veil their faces in awe

Of a crater whose blazing fury could not be fixed;

Adjusted to the local needs of valleys

Where everything can be touched or reached by walking,

Their eyes have never looked into infinite space

Through the lattice-work of a nomad's comb; born lucky,

Their legs have never encountered the fungi

And insects of the jungle, the monstrous forms and lives

With which we have nothing, we like to hope, in common.

So, when one of them goes to the bad, the way his mind works

Remains incomprehensible: to become a pimp

Or deal in fake jewellery or ruin a fine tenor voice

For effects that bring down the house, could happen to all

But the best and the worst of us...

That is why, I suppose,

The best and worst never stayed here long but sought

Immoderate soils where the beauty was not so external,

The light less public and the meaning of life

Something more than a mad camp. 'Come!' cried the granite wastes,

"How evasive is your humour, how accidental

Your kindest kiss, how permanent is death." (Saints-to-be

Slipped away sighing.) "Come!" purred the clays and gravels,

"On our plains there is room for armies to drill; rivers

Wait to be tamed and slaves to construct you a tomb

In the grand manner: soft as the earth is mankind and both

Need to be altered." (Intendant Caesars rose and

Left, slamming the door.) But the really reckless were fetched

By an older colder voice, the oceanic whisper:

"I am the solitude that asks and promises nothing;

That is how I shall set you free. There is no love;

There are only the various envies, all of them sad."

They were right, my dear, all those voices were right

And still are; this land is not the sweet home that it looks,

Nor its peace the historical calm of a site

Where something was settled once and for all: A back ward

And dilapidated province, connected

To the big busy world by a tunnel, with a certain

Seedy appeal, is that all it is now? Not quite:

It has a worldy duty which in spite of itself

It does not neglect, but calls into question

All the Great Powers assume; it disturbs our rights. The poet,

Admired for his earnest habit of calling

The sun the sun, his mind Puzzle, is made uneasy

By these marble statues which so obviously doubt

His antimythological myth; and these gamins,

Pursuing the scientist down the tiled colonnade

With such lively offers, rebuke his concern for Nature's

Remotest aspects: I, too, am reproached, for what

And how much you know. Not to lose time, not to get caught,

Not to be left behind, not, please! to resemble

The beasts who repeat themselves, or a thing like water

Or stone whose conduct can be predicted, these

Are our common prayer, whose greatest comfort is music

Which can be made anywhere, is invisible,

And does not smell. In so far as we have to look forward

To death as a fact, no doubt we are right: But if

Sins can be forgiven, if bodies rise from the dead,

These modifications of matter into

Innocent athletes and gesticulating fountains,

Made solely for pleasure, make a further point:

The blessed will not care what angle they are regarded from,

Having nothing to hide. Dear, I know nothing of

Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love

Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur

Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.

May 1948

 

A Legacy Carved in Stone

 
 
 

Introduction

Taking the Side of Things

Omphalos and Lapis Manalis

Creation

England

The Stones of Camus

Twentieth Century Stone Sculpture

Richardson 's Original Monster Rock

Band

Robert Smithson

The Moon Gets its Rocks off on Earth

In Praise of Limestone

Essay by Laura Welikson

 

Life

Exhibitions

Collections

Awards

Press

Publications

Brad's Writings 

Selected Essays