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"For the Time Being"

He is the Way.

Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;

You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.

Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;

You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.

Love Him in the World of the Flesh;

And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

~W. H. Auden



W. H. Auden was chosen to participate in the retranslation of the Psalter for the 1979 prayer book because of his prowess with language, evidenced here is this beautiful ending to the poem "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio." On this day when we remember St. John the Evangelist, who we might call the gospel poet, it is fitting to reflect on Auden's words about going forward after we have celebrated the Birth of Christ "again for the first time."

The poem begins with description of the day after Christmas, taking down the tree, broken ornaments, messy houses and leftovers. He continues with the truth about how quickly the memories of the holiness of the Birth fade as we step back into the hustle and bustle of day to day living, the bills of Christmas, the mundanity of it all.

My favorite part of the poem (also the lyrics to hymn 464) is the last section, seen above, where Auden leads the reader out of the perspective of before and after into the moment of "the time being." Auden compels the reader to live for the time being in the Way of the Christ Child. With imperative language of instruction and description of everyday living, Auden espouses his belief in living The Way of Christ. Follow Him, Seek Him he says and even though you will be in the land of Unlikeness and the kingdom of Anxiety, you will find your way Home "to a great city that has expected your return for years." And when you find your way there, we might add the line "you will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free."


Below is the complete text for your reading pleasure!


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.

He is the Way.

Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;

You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.

Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;

You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.

Love Him in the World of the Flesh;

And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.



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