Crime Fiction

W.H. Auden: “Detective Story”

W. H. Auden

From  W.H. Auden (1907-1973), a poem about crime (fictional and real):

Detective Story

by W.H. Auden

For who is ever quite without his landscape,
The straggling village street, the house in trees,
All near the church, or else the gloomy town house,
The one with the Corinthian pillars, or
The tiny workmanlike flat: in any case
A home, the centre where the three or four things
that happen to a man do happen? Yes,
Who cannot draw the map of his life, shade in
The little station where he meets his loves
And says good-bye continually, and mark the spot
Where the body of his happiness was first discovered?
An unknown tramp? A rich man? An enigma always
And with a buried past but when the truth,
The truth about our happiness comes out
How much it owed to blackmail and philandering.
The rest’s traditional. All goes to plan:
The feud between the local common sense
And that exasperating brilliant intuition
That’s always on the spot by chance before us;
All goes to plan, both lying and confession,
Down to the thrilling final chase, the kill.
Yet on the last page just a lingering doubt:
That verdict, was it just? The judge’s nerves,
That clue, that protestation from the gallows,
And our own smile . . . why yes . . .
But time is always killed. Someone must pay for
Our loss of happiness, our happiness itself.

 [“Detective Story” was first published in Letters from Iceland, a 1937 account by W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice of their 1936 trip to Iceland.]