“A culture is no better than its woods” – W H Auden, “Bucolics”

(Edit 22nd August 2018 – welcome if you have come here by Googling “a culture is no better than its woods”, you may also be interested in this post about Auden and Yeats, or this on a famous Yeats couplet from “The Second Coming” or Kingsley Amis’ introduction to his Faber Popular Reciter (not available elsewhere online) or indeed lots more here.)

From Auden’s sequence “Bucolics”, part II, “Woods“, dedicated to Nicholas Nabokov

A well-kempt forest begs Our Lady’s grace;
Someone is not disgusted, or at least
Is laying bets upon the human race
Retaining enough decency to last;
The trees encountered on a country stroll
Reveal a lot about a country’s soul.

A small grove massacred to the last ash,
An oak with heart-rot, give away the show:
This great society is going to smash;
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods.
A culture is no better than its woods.

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