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Posts tagged "W.H. Auden"

Demanding a Miracle in 2021

“Alone, Alone, About a Dreadful Wood / Of Conscious Evil Runs a Lost Mankind”

The Post-Christmas Blues and W. H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio

God Will Cheat No One, not Even the World of Its Triumph

Auden’s Missing Mercy

The Dyer’s Hand and Measure for Measure on Justice and Love

Another Week Ends: Auden’s Advice, Hospital Chaplains, Good Friday, John Prine, Dorothy Day, the Pope, George Saunders, and Weird Al

1. Today many of us are looking for clarity amidst the fraying strands of daily life: plague, family, politics, Good Friday, Easter, time—which has always passed bizarrely but especially now, in the isolation of self-quarantine. A resoundingly helpful story, in light of all this, comes from writer Jay Parini, who reflects on a brief encounter […]

Rejoice: The Absurd Command, Part 3

The conclusion of a three-part series. Read the others here. Beloved, we are always in the wrong, Handling so clumsily our stupid lives, Suffering too little or too long, Too careful even in our selfish loves: The decorative manias we obey Die in grimaces round us every day, Yet through their tohu-bohu comes a voice […]

We Are Always in the Wrong: The Absurd Command, Part 2

Continuing from last week’s first part. Kierkegaard once (indirectly) wrote that it is an edifying thought that “before God we are always in the wrong.” Not because he was an apologist for the perfectionist strain of popular Calvinism (thank God) but because this view recalibrates our lenses to assess what actually is the case. A […]

Another Week Ends: Remembering Billy Graham, Masculinity, The Midlife of Brendan Fraser, Arendt on Auden, Antisocial Churchsoundboardmen, Norwegian Grace, and (More) Technological Law

1. First up, Tullian Tchividjian posted a reflection on his remarkable grandfather, the late Billy Graham: The last real conversation I had with him will forever live in my memory. We were sitting in his bedroom. His body was frail, but his mind was still sharp. He talked to me about how hard it was […]

The God Who Can’t Hate His Fingers

A passage from W.H. Auden’s posthumously published The Prolific and the Devourer, which comes to us via the inestimable Matthew Sitman:

Both in the substance and the parabolic method of his teaching about love, Jesus never asks anyone to accept anything except on the basis of their personal experience of human love. In using the terms Father and Son to express the relation of the divine and the human, rather than, say King and subject, he makes the relation a physical not an intellectual one, for it is precisely because in the relation of parent and child the physical material relation is so impossible to deny, that it is so difficult for a human parent not to love their children irrespective of moral judgment. They can do so, but it is very much more difficult for them than for those who have not such an obvious physical connection.

Jesus in fact is asserting what the psychologists have confirmed: that one does in fact always conceive of one’s relations with life in terms of one’s relations with one’s parents, and in proportion as these were bad, one’s attitude to life is distorted [ed. note: see video below]. But though parental love is often imperfect, it is good enough and often enough for us to have no doubt about what it should be like. We expect parents to love their children whether they act well or badly because it is our experience that they usually do: we expect a physical relation to override morals. In speaking of the fatherhood of God, Jesus is teaching that God does not love us because we are ‘good’ or because he is very ‘good’ and merciful but because he has to, because we are part of him, and he can no more hate us if we act badly than a man can hate one of its fingers when it aches: he can only want it to get well.

Three Stanzas of W.H. Auden’s “In Sickness and in Health” (1940)

crc4mugwgaay0pyBeloved, we are always in the wrong,
Handling so clumsily our stupid lives,
Suffering too little or too long,
Too careful even in our selfish loves:
The decorative manias we obey
Die in grimaces round us every day,
Yet through their tohu-bohu comes a voice
Which utters an absurd command – Rejoice.

Rejoice. What talent for the makeshift thought
A living corpus out of odds and ends?
What pedagogic patience taught
Preoccupied and savage elements
To dance into a segregated charm?
Who showed the whirlwind how to be an arm,
And gardened from the wilderness of space
The sensual properties of one dear face?

Rejoice, dear love, in Love’s peremptory word;
All chance, all love, all logic, you and I,
Exist by grace of the Absurd,
And without conscious artifice we die:
O, lest we manufacture in our flesh
The lie of our divinity afresh,
Describe round our chaotic malice now,
The arbitrary circle of a vow.

Jesus Fulfilled None of W.H. Auden’s Dreams

Writing for The Chimera in the summer of 1943, W.H. Auden let fly this zinger, appropriate for Holy Week:

www2_664561_400x400If a man who is in love is asked what gives his beloved such unique value for him over all other persons, he can only answer: “She is the fulfillment of all my dreams.” If the questioner has undergone any similar experience, the subjectivity of this answer causes no offense because the lover makes no claim that others should feel the same. He not only admits that “she is beautiful” means “she is beautiful for me but not necessarily for you” but glories in this admission.

If a man who professes himself a Christian is asked why he believes Jesus to be the Christ, his position is much more difficult, since he cannot believe this without meaning that all who believe otherwise are in error, yet at the same time he can give a no more objective answer than the lover: “I believe because He fulfills none of my dreams, because He is in every respect the opposite of what He would be if I could have made Him in my own image.”

Thus, if a Christian is asked: “Why Jesus and not Socrates or Buddha or Confucious or Mahomet?” perhaps all he can say is: “None of the others arouse all sides of my being to cry ‘Crucify Him’.”

From the Archives: What Kind of Anxious Are You?

“To some people, I may seem calm. But if you could peer beneath the surface, you would see that I’m like a duck—paddling, paddling, paddling…” – Scott Stossel You don’t have to have a therapist on speed-dial to relate. You don’t need a prescription to Xanax or Ativan, or a shelf full of ‘how to […]

Election Year Wisdom from W.H. Auden

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 in 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.

For The Time Being; A Christmas Oratorio