Guest poem submitted by Carlynn Houghton, an excerpt from
(Poem #1413) Christmas Oratio
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.
This excerpt from Auden's "Christmas Oratio" captures the post-Christmas letdown with fabulous humor and accuracy, and ties it so beautifully to the human condition, to the ways we try to make sense of the world. Without undermining (indeed, the poem ends by affirming) our rational thought processes, Auden illustrates the concurrent human need for intimacy with the very world we objectify in order to understand. "Remembering the stable where for once in our lives / Everything became a You and nothing was an It" -- this poem was written during World War II, and in our time, as in Auden's, objectification (they, them, their) often seems like the cruellest of human hobbies, enabling individuals to commit horrific and unnecessary acts of violence, and resulting also in tragic failures to act due to indifference. Sorry to go on -- actually, I think the poem speaks well for itself. Auden is nothing if not didactic, except eloquent. Carlynn.