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Leap Before You Look

Sunday, 10 May, 2015

The proverb “Look before you leap” was first recorded in John Heywood’s A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, published in 1546. Some believe that it originated in the wisdom of checking a fence before jumping over it on horseback, but others say it expresses an ancient warning about rashly rushing into marriage.

W. H. Auden turned the proverb on its head 75 years ago and urged readers to experience all that life has to offer instead of worrying about every possible outcome. Danger is everywhere: “Our dream of safety has to disappear.” The best place to be is in the present says Auden. If “tough minded men” have no problem breaking silly “by-laws” that any “fool can keep”, why should the rest of us live in fear?

Leap Before You Look

The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.

Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.

The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.

The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.

Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.

A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear:
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.

W. H. Auden


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