The Sense of Danger must not disappear

Here is a poem by WH Auden, called “Leap Before you Look”.
Leap Before You Look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
Bu to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

— W. H. Auden

From <;

Right from the striking title, this poem grabs the reader’s attention as a call to get out of one’s comfort zone, take risks, embrace the unknown, confront the danger of uncertainty. This is presented as a necessity, you will overcome fear, you will pass through nervousness, you will “just do it”, as in the Nike slogan. The dream of safety is an illusion, the limits you set are self-defeating. This is expressed first from the point of view of an individual and then, at the end of the poem, as a couple.

I am somewhat baffled by the two lines in the second stanza “Tough minded men get mushy in their sleep, and break the by-laws any fool can keep”.

These lines jump out at me with a special resonance ” To rejoice when no-one else is there, is even harder than it is to weep”. Being authentic does not require the approval of others or even to be witnessed by others. It is the same idea as the moral precept of doing the right thing when no-one is looking.

Auden uses a simple language, with everyday words and straightforward syntax, making the poem accessible to all, and allowing the reader to focus on the force of the idea rather than the use of words or structure.

Lovely poem, enjoy.


The Poetry Dude


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