Auden versus Shelley

‘For poetry makes nothing happen.’ Is that so?
Why do we make and use it, then? Mere vanity?
A language’s trick-pony virtuosity,
fiddling with words until they hit upon a thought
that, for a moment, stays with us and entertains?

I wouldn’t go so far as to support,
unqualified, the opposite assertion: ‘Poets are
the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’
Between the bolder and the sadder voice I hesitate,
and wonder if the neonate explains,
by heartbeat and by cry, the reason why
we call on music’s cousin to accompany
our most exposed occasions of delight, of grief.

Measure is there within the womb
and when the lungs confront the air
the midwife in the birthing room
professionally smiles
at poetry’s twin properties —
defiance challenging despair —
of which one more arrival is inheritor.

From lullabies
to playground rhymes to last laments,
on tree trunks and on monuments,
it pleases us to versify.

Here’s my defence, for what it’s worth:
the art’s another kind of seeing, all our lives,
a side-door entry to a place of truth.
But Auden put it better and more briefly: ‘it survives,
a way of happening, a mouth.’