‘Well, So That Is That’

The concluding sections of W.H. Auden’s Christmas oratorio, For the Time Being, continue his blend of the contemporary and everyday with the mysterious and eternal. All of modern philosophy is briefly made to vanish in a blur of the mundane world:

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 fact of faith—not what one has faith in, but that faith exists, is a reality itself—that is the miracle of the day, is what Christmas is about:

Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

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A Christmas Oratorio: ‘For the Time Being’

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 it is a retelling of the Christmas story, but with a 20th century sensibility. His Herod, for instance, is a technology-loving king who loves that he lives in an Age of Reason and is ever-perplexed by faith and irked that he must hunt down and exterminate the baby Jesus.

An oratorio is a type of composition that was popular in the Baroque period and in churches and has not had many comebacks as a poetic or theatrical form because it never had a period of dominance. It never went away but it was never the first choice of writing mode for many writers. (Paul McCartney produced a quite famous one, A Liverpool Oratorio, two decades ago.) Auden was a poet of structures and forms, though, and he produced an attempt at almost every style and poetic structure in his body of work (about 400 poems and several full-length verse plays).
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The Original Yule Log Is Back!

The New York City television station WPIX first broadcast its yule log “show” on Christmas Eve 1966, fifty years ago tonight.

It was a brilliant idea that the president of WPIX, Fred Thrower, had that year: give New York City’s many apartment dwellers an old-timey Christmas fireplace like the one they had never had for the night on their virtual hearth, the television. The station tossed out several thousand dollars worth of advertising in order to air two continuous hours of a fire burning in a fireplace. The advertisers may have wound up the ones gnashing their teeth, though, as a few hours of a burning log in a fireplace won the city’s ratings for the night. It was an idea that was instantly loved.

Since 1969, the original recording had been believed to be lost. WPIX announced this month that the original tape was found this year, was digitally restored, and will be aired from 11:00 p.m. till Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The above pretty much describes the TV viewing in my house on Christmas Eve when I was 10 or so.
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O? Christmas Tree? O, Christmas Tree!

How (not) to cut down your own Christmas tree.

* * * *
I am sitting in my girlfriend’s office looking at her office Christmas tree. It is white, snow white, like a snowman in a Rankin/Bass claymation cartoon. We will be trimming it in a few moments.

I think that tree trimming was my least favorite type of trimming when I was young. I still lack the eye necessary for decorating a tree correctly; in fact, I believe that almost every tree I have attempted to decorate has been quietly fixed upon my leaving.

(Two things transpired within moments of me writing the above: 1. My girlfriend credited me with expanding her notions of tree decoration—she said, “You’re the first person I’ve seen who does not put all the decorations on the ends of the branches,” which is true, I sometimes place them on the middle or sometimes closer to the trunk; and 2. We found that I had overloaded one section with the same color ornament and we needed to correct this.)
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In a Christmas Mood …

If you find yourself in London this Christmas Eve—and why would you not be there that night?—you ought to spend the evening in the company of Nick Shankland and Kitty LaRoar in the cabaret at Scarfes Bar (from 8:00 p.m. till midnight). Whoever or whatever the jazz muse is, he/she/it has decided to hang out with these two musicians and their friends the last few years.

And they released a Christmas E.P. this year, Christmas Dream, a collection of holiday standards that they treat like the ideas are new to them and the sentiments freshly felt. They make music that is beautiful, elegant, and always in the mood for love.

I have been a fan of Kitty LaRoar and Nick Shankland’s music for a couple years now, and each recording brings new pleasure with repeated listens. Her voice and his piano accompanied me through this challenging 2016 and helped make it less so. Last year they released an E.P. for Valentine’s Day (titled Valentine’s Eve, with saxophonist Ed Jones) … if they dedicated themselves to recording music about every holiday on Earth, I would be happy to take that global tour with them.
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For Christmas: ‘For the Time Being’

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 it is a retelling of the Christmas story, but with a 20th Century sensibility. His Herod, for instance, is a technology-loving king who loves that he lives in an Age of Reason and is ever-perplexed by faith and irked that he must hunt down and exterminate the baby Jesus.

An oratorio is a type of composition that was popular in the Baroque period and in churches and has not had many comebacks as a poetic or theatrical form because it never had a period of dominance. It never went away but it was never the first choice of writing mode for many writers. (Paul McCartney produced a quite famous one, “A Liverpool Oratorio,” two decades ago.) Auden was a poet of structures and forms, though, and he produced an attempt at almost every style and poetic structure in his body of work (about 400 poems and several full-length verse plays).
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A Christmas Oratorio

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 it is, without 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 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:
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A Christmas Story

I am sitting in my girlfriend’s office looking at her office Christmas tree. It is white, snow white, like a snowman in a Rankin/Bass stop-motion cartoon. (Paul Frees would provide the voice.) We will be trimming it in a few moments.

I think that tree trimming was my least favorite type of trimming when I was young. I still lack the eye necessary for decorating a tree correctly; in fact, I believe that almost every tree I have attempted to decorate has been quietly fixed upon my leaving.

(Two things transpired within moments of me writing the above: 1. My girlfriend credited me with expanding her notions of tree decoration—she said, “You’re the first person I’ve seen who does not put all the decorations on the ends of the branches,” which is true, I sometimes place them on the middle or sometimes closer to the trunk; and 2. We found that I had overloaded one section with the same color ornament and we needed to correct this.)
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