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Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse's flowers will not last;
Nurses to the graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.

Whispering neighbours, left and right,
Pluck us from the real delight;
And the active hands must freeze
Lonely on the seperate knees.

Dead in hundreds at the back
Follow wooden in our track,
Arms raised stiffly to reprove
In false attitudes of love.

Starving through the leafless wood
Trolls run scolding for their food;
And the nightingale is dumb,
And the angel will not come.

Cold, impossible, ahead
Lifts the mountain's lovely head
Whose white waterfall could bless
Travellers in their last distress.

W.H.Auden, March 1936


I'm no poet, nor a genius, so any comment I make on this poem is not, I repeat, not to be taken down and used against me. I'm really only having a go at this "commentary business" so that this node will seem more under the whole "fair use" policy thingy. Anyway, here goes.

"Now the leaves are falling fast" seems to me like it's not just representing the end of the year, but the end of a fertile period, and is describing the nurses as well. "Nurses flowers will not last" is like saying they're getting old, their youth is falling as fast as the leaves, and time is running out if they want to have children themselves, because soon they'll just be dead. It's like the whole poem is saying "Oi! Nurses! Stop raising other people's families and raise one of your own because you know you want to and you might be dead soon anyway. Go for it! Quickly!"

Or maybe Auden is only suggesting that they, the nurses, just loosen up a little, as it were. I think that's what the final stanza is about. Sex. I don't think Auden would actually be allowed to come right out and say it, so he just shoves in some innuendo and claims it has nothing to do with sexual references at all and goes on his marry way. I mean, to me the poem is either about making love before it's too late, or having a family before it's too late. Or maybe both. Either way, they both require the act described in the final stanza.

It's important to remember that a nightingale is also (or was) slang for a London prostitute.

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