Saturday, January 02, 2016

For the Time Being

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

--W.H. Auden

I opened my copy of Collected Longer Poems by W.H. Auden last night, as bed-time reading, and found myself talking to my younger self.

I have no memory of reading these poems.  Instead, I have a memory of not reading them, because they were long and I was not that interested in poetry.  My memory tells me I got interested in poetry in graduate school, in a seminar on Yeats where we read all of his lyric poems.  My memory lies.

The title page of Collected Longer Poems is covered in my handwriting:  notes about the poetry, specific notes and general notes about Auden's poetry.  I wrote a long paper on Auden, part of a special course I took in my undergraduate work.  I vaguely remember the course, don't remember at all what I wrote about.  But there I was, 40 years younger and full of ideas.  And I realized it wasn't the ideas that had left me: it was the source material.  I used to write about stuff worth knowing, if only notes to myself.  Now, what do I know?

This morning on Salon (my morning habit), I read this article:  one that promised Chomsky and Orwell, and only offered warmed-over Orwell.  Hitchens wrote more insightfully about Orwell, and Hitchens was a putz with an Oxonian accent (even in print!) which only made him sound good.  I could construct a better analysis of U.S. ideals v. reality from the work of Reinhold Niebuhr, as indeed Andrew Bacevich has done.  But Bacevich doesn't get discussed on the internet, and Niebuhr is a dead white man at Salon.  They are far more interested in the nuanced thinking of Amy Schumer.

And where on the internet does one find a discussion that isn't about confirming one's prejudices and proving one's superiority to all outsiders (because every discussion forms its own clique.  That would be true here if I had more readers. As it is, my readers are a clique, but a gentle one with no real boundaries, because no one here defends any boundaries, except perhaps your gentle host.  He can be a real jerk.)?

So,  a New Year's resolution:  back to the books, and away with the screen.

Call it a mental health resolution.  I'll call it a spiritual one.


  1. Not to read Salon early in the morning ought to be your No. 1 New Year's resolution. Here I am setting a boundary for you that you may or may not attend to - probably not - because I no longer make turn-of-the-year resolutions. I'm much the better for it, or so it seems to me. I do make resolutions throughout the year, some of which I keep and others, not so much, but the time pressure to make up resolutions is gone.

    Thanks for the Auden poem, which was good reading for late morning. I have never found you to be a jerk. Happy New Year, Rmj.

  2. I'm resolving to not have the computer, radio or TV on for five hours a day - not counting work time. Maybe I can get it down to having them on one hour a day. Will cut down on listening to lectures but it might force listening to other things.

  3. Oh, and the TV is the easy one, I'll just have to not buy one.

  4. Thank you, June; and I am better for reading (again! who knew?) Auden than bothering with Salon. Period.

    Gonna spend more time cross-stitching and reading. Less time in front of screens. Will make for a better New Year.