“And now ‘love’ is the name for our pursuit of wholeness.”
An Excerpt by W. H. Auden
I draw breath; this is of course to wish
No matter what, to be wise,
To be different, to die and the cost,
No matter how, is Paradise
Lost of course and myself owing a death:
The eager ridge, the steady sea,
The flat roofs of the fishing village
Still asleep in its bunny,
Though as fresh and sunny still are not friends
But things to hand, this ready flesh
No honest equal, but my accomplice now
My assassin to be, and my name
Stands for my historical share of care
For a lying self-made city,
Afraid of our living task, the dying
Which the coming day will ask.
A friend of mine who reads my blog gave me this advice in a text a week ago; “Give up on Auden already.” I of course, ignored it. If you are following a blogger whose subtitle is, A Sonnet Obsession, then you shouldn’t be roiled by a deep dive into a poet, even a complex poet like Auden, for a January residency. What else do we have to do in these short, dark days then to dream and read during the polar night? Auden is as good a distraction as any other. If I am trying your patience, push through it a little longer. Breathe deep and stay with him and I, February is right around the corner. There may be no point to it in the end. But you may just find something of value for yourself in allowing for a depth to your curiosity. This month’s journey with Auden may inspire you to pick up a volume of Auden’s work for your nightstand at a garage sale or used book store this summer and then who knows what you might discover.
I have found in Auden a kindred soul. His face is a face of irresponsible living and unrepentant indulgence. I think I may be glad of it, when I have a face like his some day, the cosmetic camouflage of youth no longer able to fool the passerby. The reality of life and life’s choices there on display, in wrinkles and bulbous nose for all to judge. Too much sun you may be thinking? Too many cigarettes? Too much to drink? Too much red meat and potato chips? Way too much fun it appears! The onlooker is left to decide which is the cause of your face running down your cheeks, but clearly, something out of the ordinary has happened to create such a wreak. Men and women who can wear those faces without embarrassment are the one’s with true courage and stamina. The shallow pretenders are the ones who seek out a surgeon’s arts to keep the ruse alive or hope some homeopathic face cream is going to keep you from looking your age. A face like Auden’s declares there was more than a little excitement along the way in the misappropriation of one’s taut, handsome and uniform complexion. A face like Auden’s declares you have taken control of your own mortality and are planning it in advance rather than allowing fate to decide what form of decrepitude is going to deliver death. It is a face that should be admired for the honesty of its purpose. Life after all is like being on the President’s Cabinet: it serves only at the whim of its Commander In Chief – death.
Auden came to a profound belief in Christianity relatively late in life. It was no death-bed conversion, his faith was a deep and personal reaction to evil in the world around him during the events leading up to, during and following WWII. Remember that being gay was sufficient crime to be sent to a death camp in Nazi Germany and imprisoned in England. I respect Auden’s approach to Christianity even if I do not fully embrace his beliefs.
I relate to the following statement by Auden: “Our faith must be well balanced by our doubt,” a Christian “is never something one is, only something one can pray to become.” I think Auden and I would agree that all religions and in particular Christianity is a way of being in the world, a way of looking at the world through a specific lens, not an intellectual proof to be solved like Thomas Aquinas or a moral checklist that allows passage into an imagined Heaven or a map that can explain all of the world around us and its contradictions. I relate to Auden’s doubt more than I relate to his belief in his writing. Auden’s God is a God of love not a God of damnation. Most of all, I relate to Auden’s acceptance of humanity. His poetry is an affirmation of the complexity of being human, a faithful rendering of our foibles, oddities and faults alongside our incredible beauty.
Auden’s Horae Canonicae has a lot going on it as a poem. I don’t know if I have digested even a tiny bit of it yet. Here’s another snippet of fourteen lines for you to interpret on your own and savor in a small mouthful. Forgive his use of only masculine pronouns, I truly believe Auden meant to be inclusive, while trapped in the tradition of an old fashioned approach to literature.
Here’s a link to an on-line version of the entire poem if you wish to read more.
III – Excerpt by W. H. Auden
…..an epiphany of that
which does whatever is done.
Whatever god a person believes in,
in whatever way he believes,
(no two are exactly alike)
as one of the crowd he believes
and only believes in that
in which there is only one way of believing.
Few people accept each other and most
will never do anything properly,
but the crowd rejects no one, joining the crowd
is the only thing all men can do.
Only because of that can we say
all men are our brothers,….