Sonnet from China

I read a blog posting today, or rather it was posted to me as it seems China is currently blocking some blogging sites, about a friend’s visit to Nanjing and the museum to the massacres there. Which made me think of one of my favourite Auden poems, a sonnet from China, and its haunting, hopeless last lines:


Here war is harmless like a monument:
A telephone is talking to a man;
Flags on a map declare that troops were sent;
A boy brings milk in bowls. There is a plan

For living men in terror of their lives,
Who thirst at nine who were to thirst at noon,
Who can be lost and are, who miss their wives
And, unlike an idea, can die too soon.

Yet ideas can be true, although men die:
For we have seen a myriad faces
Ecstatic from one lie,

And maps can really point to places
Where life is evil now.
Nanking. Dachau.

W.H Auden