‘For the Time Being,’ Part 1

During World War II, the poet W.H. Auden wrote a book-length poem entitled “For the Time Being.” It is subtitled, “A Christmas Oratorio,” and he desired that it be set to music; because it is fifty-two pages long as is, before the addition of music or stage directions, he could have easily subtitled it, “The Longest Christmas Oratorio: Bring Snacks.” Benjamin Britten decided that composing music for the full work was too difficult so he set two short sections to music.

“For the Time Being” was published in 1944. I will explore it a bit more tomorrow. It is found in Auden’s Collected Poems. Here is one section:

At the Manger
MARY:

O shut your bright eyes that mine must endanger
With their watchfulness; protected by its shade
Escape from my care: what can you discover
From my tender look but how to be afraid?
Love can but confirm the more it would deny.
     Close your bright eye.

Sleep. What have you learned from the womb that bore you
But an anxiety your Father cannot feel?
Sleep. What will the flesh that I gave do for you,
Or my mother love, but tempt you from His will?
Why was I chosen to teach His son to weep?
     Little One, sleep.

Dream. In human dreams earth ascends to Heaven
Where no one need pray or ever feel alone.
In your first few hours of life here, O have you
Chosen already what death must be your own?
How soon will you start on the Sorrowful Way?
     Dream while you may.

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The WordPress Daily Prompt for December 19 asks, “The holiday season: can’t get enough of it, or can’t wait for it all to be over already? Has your attitude toward the end-of-year holidays changed over the years?”

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6 comments

  1. Martha Kennedy · December 19, 2014

    Wow. Thank you. I will have to read more of it. This is beautiful. (I love Auden; I love him first and foremost for doing a beautiful translation of Goethe’s Italian Journey. I’ll always believe Auden introduced me to Goethe, so I owe him a BIG debt.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · December 19, 2014

      We share a love for Auden, but he did not introduce me to Goethe (no one has–yet). I have found myself turning to him quite a bit this year and have written several posts considering him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Martha Kennedy · December 19, 2014

        I’ll look for Auden in your blog. If you decide you’d like an introduction to Goethe, I recommend Italian Journey. That way you get to meet the man rather than the “idea” of the man. You might (as did I) end up with a good friend.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. livingonchi · December 19, 2014

    what a sad and cleverly worded poem

    Liked by 1 person

  3. nonsmokingladybug · December 20, 2014

    I start to enjoy your blog more and more 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: ‘For the Time Being,’ Part 2 | The Gad About Town

Please comment here. Thank you, Mark.

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