An aubade is a poem of love, usually sung by lovers at dawn after a night together. There is no fixed form for an aubade, and William Empson has chosen to use four sets of alternating five-and three-line stanzas, followed by two five-line stanzas with which the poem concludes.
Empson spent the 1930’s as a university lecturer in Japan and China, and the poem seems to be set in the Far East. At some time in the middle of the night an earthquake is felt; the lovers are shaken awake by the first tremor, which is followed by a stronger quake. They decide to get up and part. There is some suggestion that the male lover would like harm to come to some others through the quake, and there is the first appearance of the ambiguous line, “The heart of standing is you cannot fly.”
The woman dresses, and the male lover, the writer or voice of the poem, who sees himself as apprehensively insecure (a “guarded tourist”), suggests that she might want to leave through the garden, obviously to avoid being seen. This amuses the woman, who is clearly more secure; she will take a taxi, and he will go back to bed. Before she leaves they discuss as well as they can, since they seem to have a bit of a language problem, how she will deal with her husband. It is now obvious that the relationship is adulterous and that they are of different races. She makes it clear that she is not worried about the earthquake and the deaths it might have caused, but that her...
(The entire section is 547 words.)