W. H. Auden’s “Lullaby,” his most famous love lyric, perhaps is better known by its famous first line, “Lay your sleeping head, my love.” In musical and rhetorical lines of mostly trochaic tetrameter verse, the narrator watches his sleeping lover through the night and, in four ten-line stanzas, reflects upon the value and necessity of both passionate love and beauty and their brevity.
The speaker gazes upon his lover beside him and sings this philosophical “lullaby” about love, beauty, and time’s ruthless pull. The speaker realizes that time eventually will erode his lover’s beauty, as it some day will suck children down into their graves. He prays to be allowed to hold his beloved in his admittedly “faithless arm” until dawn, because at this enchanted moment the beloved seems to him to be “entirely beautiful.” The speaker asks for a temporary reprieve from time for this one exquisite night to prolong the beauty of the moment and of his lover.
In the next stanza, the narrator reflects on the timeless and boundless feelings people experience when they are ardently in love and feel united in body and soul. Lovers seem to “swoon” into an enchanted union in which their bodies and spirits merge—it is as if Venus, the goddess of love, suffused them with feelings of sympathy, “universal love,” and “hope” so that the mortals feel unity and timelessness. Into this idyllic feeling of timeless passion, Auden...
(The entire section is 596 words.)