Annual Auden Adventure

I fulfilled my self-imposed Advent discipline, reading W.H. Auden’s For the Time Being, Sunday evening. Would that all disciplines were so delightful!

I have excerpted it more extensively in 2014 (Here’s my part 1 and part 2 comments), and perhaps earlier than that. This year, brevity.

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I have but now escaped a raging landscape:
There woods were in a tremor from the shouts
Of hunchbacks hunting a hermaphrodite; …

(Feeling, speaking in W.H. Auden, For the Time Being. I suppose it was twisted of me to think of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and catty of me to share the thought.)

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O God, put away justice and truth for we cannot understand them and do not want them. Eternity would bore us dreadfully. Leave Thy heavens and come down to our earth of waterclocks and hedges. Become our uncle. Look after Baby, amuse Grandfather, escort Madam to the Opera, help Willy with his home-work, introduce Muriel to a handsome naval officer. Be interesting and weak like us, and we will love you as we love ourselves.

(Herod, contemplating the Massacre of the Innocents, in W.H. Auden, For the Time Being)

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For the Time Being is a pivotal book in the career of one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century. W. H. Auden had recently moved to America, fallen in love with a young man to whom he considered himself married, rethought his entire poetic and intellectual equipment, and reclaimed the Christian faith of his childhood. Then, in short order, his relationship fell apart and his mother, to whom he was very close, died. In the midst of this period of personal crisis and intellectual remaking, he decided to write a poem about Christmas and to have it set to music by his friend Benjamin Britten. Applying for a Guggenheim grant, Auden explained that he understood the difficulty of writing something vivid and distinctive about that most clichéd of subjects, but welcomed the challenge. In the end, the poem proved too long and complex to be set by Britten, but in it we have a remarkably ambitious and poetically rich attempt to see Christmas in double focus: as a moment in the history of the Roman Empire and of Judaism, and as an ever-new and always contemporary event for the believer. For the Time Being is Auden’s only explicitly religious long poem, a technical tour de force, and a revelatory window into the poet’s personal and intellectual development. This edition provides the most accurate text of the poem, a detailed introduction by Alan Jacobs that explains its themes and sets the poem in its proper contexts, and thorough annotations of its references and allusions.

(Amazon’s summary of Alan Jacobs’ 2013 critical edition of the poem, which also is available in Edward Mendelson’s Collected Poems of Auden)

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.


Putting “Christ” in “Black Friday.”

Social conservatives will soon be “trying to take Christmas back” or to “put Christ in Christmas.” Perhaps they’ll be calling, again, for boycotts of stores that don’t say “Merry Christmas.”

I’ll not be joining them. Because it isn’t “the Christmas season.” Continue reading “Putting “Christ” in “Black Friday.””