For the Time Being

Last year, I serialized excerpts of W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio, For the Time Being, late in the Nativity Fast/Advent. This year is 100% reprise, but in a single blog rather than serialized.

Enjoy! And have a very blessed feast.

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible.
We who must die demand a miracle.



Mary, in the dream of love
Playing as all children play,
For unsuspecting children may
Expressing comic make-believe
The wish that later they will know
Is tragic and impossible;
Hear, child, what I am sent to tell:
Love wills your dream to happen, so
Love’s will on earth may be, through you,
No longer a pretend but true.


What dancing joy would whirl
My ignorance away?
Light blazes out of the stone,
The taciturn water
Bursts into music,
And warm wings throb within
The motionless rose:
What sudden rush of power
Commands me to command?


When Eve, in love with her own will,
Denied the will of Love and fell,
She turned the flesh Love knew so well
To knowledge of her love until
Both love and knowledge were of sin:
What her negation wounded, may
Your affirmation heal to-day;
Love’s will requires your own, that in
The flesh whose love you do not know,
Love’s knowledge into flesh may grow.


My flesh in terror and fire
Rejoices that the Word
Who utters the world out of nothing,
As a pledge of His word to love her
Against her will, and to turn
Her desperate longing for love,
Should ask to wear me,
From now to their wedding day,
For an engagement ring.


Since Adam, being free to choose,
Chose to imagine he was free
To choose his own necessity,
Lost in his freedom, Man pursues
The shadow of his images:
To-day the Unknown seeks the known;
What I am willed to ask, your own
Will has to answer; child, it lies
Within your power of choosing to
Conceive the Child who chooses you.

Star of the Nativity

Beware. All those who follow me are led
Onto that Glassy Mountain where are no
Footholds for logic, to that Bridge of Dread
Where knowledge but increases vertigo …

The Second Wise Man

With envy, terror, rage, regret,
We anticipate or remember but never are.
To discover how to be living now
Is the reason I follow this star.

The Three Wise Men

The weather has been awful,
The countryside is dreary,
Marsh, jungle, rock; and echoes mock,
Calling our hope unlawful;
But a silly song can help along
Yours ever and sincerely:
At least we know for certain that we are three old sinners,
That this journey is much too long, that we want our dinners,
And miss our wives, our books, our dogs,
But have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are.
To discover how to be human now
Is the reason we follow this star.

Fugal Chorus

Instead of building temples, we build laboratories;
Instead of offering sacrifices, we perform experiments;
Instead of reciting prayers, we note pointer-readings;
Our lives are no longer erratic but efficient.
Great is Caesar: God must be with Him.

Great is Caesar: He has conquered Seven Kingdoms.
The Fourth was the Kingdom of Credit Exchange:
Last night it was Tit-for-Tat, tonight it is C.O.D.;
When we have a surplus, we need not meet someone with the deficit;
When we have a deficit, we need not meet someone with a surplus;
Instead of heavy treasures, there are paper symbols of value;
Instead of Pay at Once, there is Pay when you can;
Instead of My Neighbor, there is Our Customers;
Instead of Country Fair, there is World Market.
Great is Caesar: God must be with Him.

Great is Caesar: He has conquered Seven Kingdoms.
The Seventh was the Kingdom of Popular Soul:
Last night it was Order-Order, tonight it is Hear-Hear;
When he says, You are happy, we laugh;
When he says, You are wretched, we cry;
When he says, It is true, everyone believes it;
When he says, It is false, no one believes it;
When he says This is good, this is loved;
When he says, That is bad, that is hated.
Great is Caesar: God must be with Him.


If we were never alone or always too busy,
Perhaps we might even believe what we know is not true:
But no one is taken in, at least not all of the time;
In our bath, or the subway, or the middle of the night,
We know very well we are not unlucky, but evil,
That the dream of a Perfect State or No State at all,
To which we fly for refuge, is a part of our punishment.
Let us therefore be contrite but without anxiety,
For Powers and Times are not gods but mortal gifts from God;
Let us acknowledge our defeats but without despair,
For all societies and epochs are transient details,
Transmitting an everlasting opportunity
That the Kingdom of Heaven may come, not in our present
And not in our future, but in the Fullness of Time.
Let us pray.


Inflict Thy promises with each
Occasion of distress,
That from our incoherence we
May learn to put our trust in Thee,
And brutal fact persuade us to
Adventure, Art and Peace.


As long as there were any roads to amnesia and anaesthesia still to be explored, in the rare wine or curiosity of cuisine as yet untested, any erotic variation as yet unimagined or unrealized, any method of torture as yet undevised, any style of conspicuous waste as yet unindulged, any eccentricity of mania or disease as yet unrepresented, there was still a hope that man had not been poisoned but transformed, that Paradise was not an eternal state from which he had been forever expelled, but a child estate which she had permanently outgrown, that the Fall had occurred by necessity.

Before the Infinite could manifest itself in the finite, it was necessary that man should first have reached that point along his road to Knowledge where, just as it rises from the swamps of confusion on the sunny slopes of Objectivity, it forks in opposite directions toward the One and the Many; where, therefore, in order to proceed it all, he must decide which is Real and which only Appearance, yet at the same time cannot escape the knowledge that his choice is arbitrary and subjective.

By the event of this birth the true significance of all other events is defined, for of every other occasion it can be said that could’ve been different, but of this birth it is the case that it could in no way be other than it is. And by the existence of this Child, the proper value of all other existences is given, for of every other creature it can be said that it has no extrinsic importance but of this Child it is the case that he is in no sense a symbol.

Joseph, Mary, pray for all
The proper and conventional
Of whom this world approves

O pray for our salvation
Who take the prudent way
Believing we shall be exempted
From the general condemnation

O pray for us, the bourgeoisie.

I am that star most dreaded by the wise,
For they are drawn against their will to me,
Yet read in my procession through the skies
The doom of orthodox suphrosyne:
I shall discard their major preservation,
All that they know so long as no one asks:
I shall deprive them of their minor tasks
In free and legal households of sensation,
Of money, picnics, beer, and sanitation.

Beware. All those who follow me are led
Onto that Glassy Mountain where are no
Footholds for logic, to that Bridge of Dread
Where knowledge but increases vertigo;
Those who pursue me take a twisting lane
To find themselves immediately alone
With savage water or unfeeling stone,
In labyrinths where they must entertain
Confusion, cripples, tigers, thunder, pain.

Descend into the fosse of Tribulation,
Take the cold hand of Terror for a guide;
Below you in its swirling desolation
Hear tortured Horror roaring for a bride:
O do not falter at the last request
But, as the huge deformed head rears to kill,
Answer its craving with a clear I Will;
Then wake, a child in the rose-garden, pressed
Happy and sobbing to your lover’s breast.