A Short Ode to a Philologist

From Tolkien Gateway

A Short Ode to a Philologist is a poem written by W.H. Auden and published in English and Medieval Studies Presented to J.R.R. Tolkien on the Occasion of his Seventieth Birthday (1962). The poem was mirrored by Tolkien in the poem "For W.H.A.", published as an answer.

The poem[edit | edit source]

Necessity knows no speech: not even
Shakespeare can say
What must be said so well as Frisch's bees convey
Vital instructions by ballet,
Nor do Jack and Jill, like thrushes,
Grow outspoken under May's compulsion.
A scream can be uncontrollable and yawning a rudeness
One has to be excused, but free
Speech is tautology.

Who means Good-morning reveals he is not
Napoleon or
Napoleon's cook but quite as born, a first author,
Ready in turn to answer for
A story he cannot invent
And must leave to others to tell with what
Prejudice they prefer. Social charmers daren't invite comment
And a chatterbox doesn't: in
Speech, if true, deeds begin.

If not, there's International Babel,
In which murders
Are a sanitary measure and stockbrokers
Integrity-ridden for sirs
Who think big, where noises abound
For throats to hire whose doom is to compel
Attention: Its Void costs money, being flood-lit, wired for sound,
With banner headlines guaranteed
And applause pre-recorded.

But Dame Philology is our Queen still,
Quick to comfort
Truth-loving hearts in their mother-tongue (to report
On the miracles she has wrought
In the U.K., the N.E.D.
Takes fourteen tomes): She suffers no evil,
And a statesman still, so her grace prevent, may keep a treaty,
A poor commoner arrive at
The Proper Name for his cat.

No hero is immortal till he dies
Nor is tongue,
But a lay of Beowulf's language, too, can be sung,
Ignoble, maybe, to the young,
Having no monsters and no gore
To speak of, yet not without its beauties
For those who have learned to hope: a lot of us are grateful for
What J. R. R. Tolkien has done
As bard to Anglo-Saxon.