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April 11, 2016


Lurcher-loving collier, black as night,
Follow your love across the smokeless hill;
Your lamp is out, the cages are all still;
Course for heart and do not miss,
For Sunday soon is past and, Kate, fly not so fast,
For Monday comes when none may kiss:
Be marble to his soot, and to his black be white.

–W.H. Auden 1935

COMMENTARY: Growing up in the Pennine hill country in the center of England, Auden had a lifelong fascination with stones, pebbles, quarries, hills, and, of course, the mines carved into the limestone moors around his hometown. He claimed that when he was a boy he wanted to be a mining engineer and spent much of his time reading geological books. That explains the collier, maybe, though I think the mines in the Pennines are mostly lead. This, of course, doesn’t have much to do with the poem, it’s just interesting.

This poem is included among a dozen short, musical pieces in Auden’s On This Island, his fourth book, published while he was traveling in Iceland. The gracefulness of the rhymes—the soft, coaxing, old-fashioned measures—make the poem almost a lullaby. But there is something, maybe, just a touch askew between the lines. Why is Kate fleeing, and what to make of that somewhat grubby image of the coal dust smearing on marble? Why can’t anyone kiss on Monday? There are no concrete answers to these questions, but their presence makes the poem, for me at least, a touch riddling and suggestive.


From → Love Poems

  1. This is a playful poem, isn’t it? There’s a bit of carpe diem in it as well as the idea of the chase (of the chaste). The fleeing country Kate told not to flee too fast reminds me of the Keats’s “maidens loath” and the “mad pursuit.” Maybe that’s where the marble comes in. The OED gives this as one of the definitions of “lurcher”: “a cross-bred dog . . . largely used by poachers for catching hares and rabbits” and then has this amusing illustrative citation:

    1894 Field 9 June 813/2 The usual lurcher is between the greyhound and collie; they cross well, and the speed of one is combined with the sagacity of the other.

  2. richibi permalink

    it seems to me that “collier, black as night” has the weekend off and has only Sunday to pursue his maiden, for soon “Monday comes”

    therefore Kate is swift as Sunday, metaphorically speaking, of course, and collier fears consequently her “fly[ing] so fast” towards that obstreperous weekday morning “when none may kiss” – “Be marble to his soot,” Auden says, “and to his black be white”, put on, he means, your best attire, for Monday you must return to grime and work – Richard

    • Ah yes, grime and work. Thanks for the insights Richard. Hope this Monday finds you less coal-pitted than our amorous hero.

  3. Y’know I never thought to look “lurcher” up in the dictionary. I like the description from the OED though–sounds like they would make good “Cowboy Monkey Rodeo” dogs. As for carpe diem–yeah, but more carpe noctis–or quickly, quickly horses of the night. Definitely some Ovid.

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