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W.H. Auden: dynamic and deep

Excerpt from “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio”

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.

W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden (1907-1973) was an English poet who moved to the United States in 1939 and became a naturalized citizen in 1946. He is considered one of the most dynamic poets of the 20th century, writing on a vast array of subjects, including politics, religion, love, and art. The dynamism of his poetic skill reflected a similar depth; and Auden was critically praised for the mastery of tone and technique in a variety of forms and styles. Auden wrote his long poem, “For the Time Being,” between 1941 and 1942; it was published in 1944. The poem presents a series of dramatic monologues offered by the characters of Christ’s Nativity with commentary by choruses and a narrator.

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Sweetfin’s trademarked poke box

A visit to the mall for plant-based poke dressed in pink cardboard

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.

W.H. Auden

W.H. Auden (1907-1973) was an English poet who moved to the United States in 1939 and became a naturalized citizen in 1946. He is considered one of the most dynamic poets of the 20th century, writing on a vast array of subjects, including politics, religion, love, and art. The dynamism of his poetic skill reflected a similar depth; and Auden was critically praised for the mastery of tone and technique in a variety of forms and styles. Auden wrote his long poem, “For the Time Being,” between 1941 and 1942; it was published in 1944. The poem presents a series of dramatic monologues offered by the characters of Christ’s Nativity with commentary by choruses and a narrator.

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