‘A Renewal’

To have love, one must give love; to give love, one must have it to give. That may be life’s deepest catch-22—any of those logical situations whose suppositions exist only to support the logic that requires them. Love is illogical, or at least it has its own logic.

The moment love is not pursued, there it is; advice to a young lover often follows that logic. “When you stop looking for it or needing it, you will find love.” (It only took about three decades of hearing that for it to sink in for me.)
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‘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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‘Aubade’ by Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin was honored today with a memorial stone in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. He died thirty-one years ago today. Larkin’s memorial sits between those of Anthony Trollope and Ted Hughes. Chaucer’s tomb sits nearby. Edward Lear’s memorial stone is immediately above Larkin’s.

I wrote the following essay in June:

* * * *
“I don’t know that I ever expected much of life,” Philip Larkin wrote to his lifelong friend Kingsley Amis in October 1979, “but it terrifies me to think it’s nearly over.” He had another six years of life left, but the emptiness of the end—”the total emptiness for ever,/The sure extinction that we travel to”—was much on his mind.

The poem from which those lines originate, “Aubade,” was published in 1977 in the Times Literary Supplement (TLS). Larkin had started it in 1974, worked at it that year, and then left it until 1977, when he finished it. “Death is the most important thing about life,” he wrote his companion, Monica Jones, when they were both still young.
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‘The Flower’

George Herbert (1593–1633) was a priest who composed devotional poems as a hobby. As he approached his early death (age 39), he collected his poems and submitted them for publication.

That collection, The Temple, went through eight editions in the next few decades, which speaks to its popularity in 17th century England. In a tumultuous era, his voice—calm, assured, embracing doubt as a necessary part of devotion—was a beloved one.

“Who would have thought my shriveled heart / Could have recovered greenness?” he asks in “The Flower.” He adds, “It was gone / Quite underground.” The poem, after the jump:
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Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939’

Shortly before his death, the poet W.H. Auden told talk-show host (and former politician) Richard Crossman, “Nothing I wrote prevented one Jew from being gassed or stalled the war for five seconds.”

At first glance, this places the bar very high for the role of a writer in the affairs of the world, but it is simply a stark assessment of the reality that a writer has no say in the practical matters of life and death. He is not saying that words do not matter but is instead drawing the boundary between where they do matter and where they can not. Writers are makers and not doers, not “men of action,” Auden also liked to say.
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‘Nobody is sleeping in the sky’

It is believed that August 19 is the date on which the poet Federico García Lorca (above) was assassinated by Nationalist forces in Spain. The killing was 80 years ago today. The poet was 38.

Lorca was murdered during the Spanish Civil War by soldiers on the Nationalist side, the Francoists. In “Fable and Round of the Three Friends,” he foresaw, in his surrealist fashion, his own end:
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‘In Praise of Limestone’

[…] In so far as we have to look forward
To death as a fact, no doubt we are right: But if
Sins can be forgiven, if bodies rise from the dead,
These modifications of matter into
Innocent athletes and gesticulating fountains,
Made solely for pleasure, make a further point:
The blessed will not care what angle they are regarded from,
Having nothing to hide.
Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.
—W. H. Auden, “In Praise of Limestone”

In his 66 years, W.H. Auden lived in many locations in Europe and America: he was born and raised in York, educated at Oxford, and lived long-term in Berlin, New York City, Michigan, Italy, Austria. In 1948, he started spending his summers on the island of Ischia, in the Tyrrhenian Sea. (Seen above.) That island’s landscape, covered as it is with rocky volcanic outcroppings, so different from any he had known, came to represent difference itself in his mind.
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Auden’s ‘Thank You, Fog’

“My face looks like a wedding cake left out in the rain,” quipped W.H. Auden. Indeed, by the age of 60, Auden’s face looked like the most-read library book in the most popular library; it exhausted any adjectives thrown at it—it was its own adjective. His friend Hannah Arendt said he looked “as if life itself had delineated a kind of face-scape to make manifest the ‘heart’s invisible furies.'”
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