1st September 1939-2019

1st September 1939-2019

You can see what Auden meant,
Sitting in one of his dives
Eighty years from here,
Supping the depth of his pain
To the bottom of his glass;
He felt Enlightenment's loss
Like a tumour in his brain,
The darkness closing in,
Conspiracies of hate
Calculating the lives
They can forfeit to the cause.

The darkness was allayed
By millions sacrificed;
These men and women died
On the walls of Stalingrad,
The beaches of Normandy,
In parched El-Alamein,
Building a better world
From the ruins of ancient sites;
The remnants of the maimed
The Enlightenment reclaimed
On the bones of the betrayed.

So a fairer world was built,
At least, the industrial West,
The proceeds of capital
Shared more evenly
As espoused by Keynes;
Investment, nationalisation
Of all the utilities,
Collective bargaining
For wages and conditions,
Comprehensive education,
Public health for all.

Meanwhile, the nagging guilt
Of colonialism
Was to be assuaged
By countries taken back
By to whom they had belonged
Before their exploitation;
Hundreds of millions wronged
By thievery, rendition
Of their mineral wealth
To imperial banks
And oligarchic frauds.

For forty years it seemed
As if the Enlightenment
Was slowly creeping back;
Community on the rise,
Public policy aimed
At homes and jobs for all;
Equality was the prize,
Ordinary folk in thrall
To the prospect of a life
Free from poverty;
Then Thatcher stuck in the knife.

She twisted it to the core,
Clawed back the progress made,
Stole the hard wrought goods
We'd moulded from the ashes
Of our predecessors' bones:
For another forty years,
Destroyed our hopeless dream
Of a world-wide social state
Where workers are not abused;
Instead, we've ended up
With homeless paving the streets.

What little wealth we had
Has been stolen by the rich,
The bloated oligarchs
In their shining, slippery towers,
Lauding themselves, their acts
Leading to our planet
Destroying itself at last;
They feast upon the bones
Of the poorest of the poor,
Squashed beneath the heels
Of these cannibalistic powers.

Bemused, bewildered, betrayed,
The ghosts of those who fought
To build that world of light,
Defeat the fascist fiends
Of whom Auden despaired,
Weep into their graves
Their sacrifice as naught;
The avarice unfurled,
We mourn it was not stayed.
Yet love is what they taught;
This struggle never ends.

By Arthur Richardson

Very part time poem maker. Retired from paid work.

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