“Lady, Weeping at the Crossroads” by W. H. Auden


I read this poem today on a fellow blogger’s site. Rather than post the poem here, I will direct you to her site, which is fantastic.

Symbol Reader: Auden Poem

The crossroads is a very powerful symbol. In voudou, it represents the point where the worldly and the spiritual realms meet. I believe that the Christian crucifix is a visual form of the crossroads. Finally, I interpret the crossroads as the place in the psyche where the conscious and the subconscious intersect.

The woman in the poem is suffering the loss of a loved one. She is at the crossroads, hoping to encounter his spirit. The birds in the second stanza are the messengers that can move between realms. The bribe could be either to bring her lover a message or to silence them from letting Heaven know that someone has crossed the threshold between realms.

Being at the crossroads also implies that one must make a choice. The woman must make a choice: does she take the road that continues into the future of her human existence, or does she take the road that ascends to Heaven, where she will reunite with her love?

In the end, she decides to take her life and join with her love.

Put your hand behind the wainscot,
You have done your part;
Find the penknife there and plunge it
Into your false heart.

I feel that there is also another meaning to this ending. Metaphorically speaking, the woman may be symbolically opening her false heart to the divine being. If the crossroads are where Heaven and Earth intersect, then she may be opening her heart to the divine presence, allowing the divine essence to fill her. I personally like this interpretation, but as with all great poems, you can interpret them in many ways.

Thanks again to Symbol Reader for sharing this today. I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I did.



Filed under Literature

8 responses to ““Lady, Weeping at the Crossroads” by W. H. Auden

  1. Nicely done. I tend to lean to your interpretation. On a purely personal level, Auden has held a strong touchstone for me at this point in my recovery from a breakdown. He was long torn between his conscious return to faith, and a longing loneliness born of his sexuality. There seems to be a deep empathy in his work as a result and reaches out to those conflicts, contradictions and searching we all find in living.

    • Thanks for your deeply personal comment. I know enough about recovery to know that having the courage to share what is going on inside is where healing and growth begin. I’m glad that Auden’s poetry has helped you along the path. Wishing you all the best. — Jeff

  2. Fantastic interpretation, Jeff. I really resonate with it. I do not know much about voudou and that is why I thought more of the goddess Hekate while reflecting on that poem. But I see how voudou would also make sense.
    Thank you.

    • Hi Monika. You are spot on regarding Hekate. This poem really draws on some universal themes. I suspect you could tease out other interpretations too. Great poem. Thank you so much for bringing it to my attention.

      All the best,

  3. Interesting. I tend to agree with your interpretation. Although, having posted something this morning on a different kind of crossroads topic, of the need to commit more fully to the writing life I desire and have long postponed, I’m looking at this poem through that lens. Here’s what I see:

    At the end, she plunges the knife into her “false heart” after having seen herself in a mirror brushed free of cobwebs, perhaps denoting a neglected part of herself. Perhaps the crossroads is between the false life she is living and the life that was taken from her by her own neglect of it. Interesting too, that the knife she plunges is a pen-knife: the pen, perhaps being a symbol of the creative life.

    Well, if so, it fits perfectly with my post. While I’ve been turning the corner (crossing over) into the life I desire as a writer, I haven’t yet completed the crossing. I have yet to “drink the bitter ocean dry,” to “cross the rotten bridge that totters over the abyss.” I feel I need to take the “plunge,” to dive over that abyss. The metaphor of standing on a precipice, ready to leap–has long been a part of my writing vocabulary. Here, the plunge is into the false heart–the false self? The fearful heart? The resisting heart? Much to think about. Thank you.

    • Hi Deborah.

      What a beautiful interpretation!! I can totally see it. It’s amazing that there can be so many takes on the same poem. It is a quality that makes this poem great. Judging by your posts that I have read, I have no doubt that you will use your pen to open your heart and and write amazing things. It looks like you have already chosen your road.

      Best wishes,

  4. Such a beautiful poem with a powerful symbolism beneath their lines…
    I agree with you when you said: ” I interpret the crossroads as the place in the psyche where the conscious and the subconscious intersect”… Also according to Jung’s theory the crossroad could be linked with the threshold, which has the same meaning somehow.
    I love the way you linked the crossroad with the place where “Heaven and Earth intersect”…. Great analysis, dear Jeff!
    Best wishes, Aquileana 😛