Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total darkness sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
Not Auden’s most famous poem but opens with a very powerful rhyming couplet – one of my favourites in all poetry. The poet raises an interesting question in the second stanza as to whether it is better to love without return or be loved without return. He prefers the former, but I’m not sure we all would. The poem appears to be discussing unrequited love, with the stars serving as a metaphor for the person who does not return the poet’s love. The claim that he “should learn to look at an empty sky” could be Auden’s way of telling us that he can get over unrequited love. This is by no means a straightforward poem and is certainly open to interpretation.