On the Circuit
by W. H. Auden
Among pelagian travelers,
Lost on their lewd conceited way
To Massachusetts, Michigan,
Miami or L.A.,
An airborne instrument I sit,
Predestined nightly to fulfill
By whose election justified,
I bring my gospel of the Muse
To fundamentalists, to nuns,
to Gentiles and to Jews,
And daily, seven days a week,
Before a local sense has jelled,
From talking-site to talking-site
Though warm my welcome everywhere,
I shift so frequently, so fast,
I cannot now say where I was
The evening before last,
Unless some singular event
Should intervene to save the place,
A truly asinine remark,
A soul-bewitching face,
Or blessed encounter, full of joy,
Unscheduled on the Giesen Plan,
With, here, an addict of Tolkien,
There, a Charles Williams fan.
Since Merit but a dunghill is,
I mount the rostrum unafraid:
Indeed, 'twere damnable to ask
If I am overpaid.
Spirit is willing to repeat
Without a qualm the same old talk,
But Flesh is homesick for our snug
Apartment in New York.
A sulky fifty-six, he finds
A change of mealtime utter hell,
Grown far too crotchety to like
A luxury hotel.
The Bible is a goodly book
I always can peruse with zest,
But really cannot say the same
For Hilton's Be My Guest.
Nor bear with equanimity
The radio in students' cars,
Muzak at breakfast, or–dear God!–
Girl-organists in bars.
Then, worst of all, the anxious thought,
Each time my plane begins to sink
And the No Smoking sign comes on:
What will there be to drink?
Is this my milieu where I must
How grahamgreeneish! How infra dig!
Snatch from the bottle in my bag
An analeptic swig?
Another morning comes: I see,
Dwindling below me on the plane,
The roofs of one more audience
I shall not see again.
God bless the lot of them, although
I don't remember which was which:
God bless the U.S.A., so large,
So friendly, and so rich.
From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by The Estate of W. H. Auden. Used by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd. http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15552Audio Clip
March 12, 1964
From the Academy Audio Archive