Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I finished Auden's For the Time Being last night, and enjoyed it. Here are some bits I liked:

Gabriel, during the Annunciation:

"Since Adam, being free to choose,
Chose to imagine he was free
To choose his own necessity,
Lost in his freedom, Man pursues
The shadow of his images:
Today the Unknown seeks the known;
What I am willed to ask, your own
Will has to answer; child, it lies
Within your power of choosing to
Conceive the Child who chooses you."

Simeon, after Jesus has been presented at the Temple:

"The tragic conflict of Virtue with Necessity is no longer confined to the Exceptional Hero; for disaster is not the impact of a curse upon a few great families, but issues continually from the hubris of every tainted will. Every invalid is Roland defending the narrow pass against hopeless odds, every stenographer Brunnhilde refusing to renounce her lover's ring which came into existence through the renunciation of love.

Nor is the Ridiculous a species any longer of the Ugly; for since of themselves all men are without merit, all are ironically assisted to their comic bewilderment by the Grace of God. Every Cabinet Minister is the woodcutter's simple-minded son to whom the fishes and the crows are always whispering the whereabouts of the Dancing Water or the Singing Branch, every heiress the washerwoman's butter-fingered daughter on whose pillow the fairy keeps laying the herb that could cure the Prince's mysterious illness.

Nor is there any situation which is essentially more or less interesting than another. Every tea-table is a battlefield littered with old catastrophes and haunted by the vague ghosts of vast issues, every martyrdom an occasion for flip cracks and sententious oratory.

Because in Him all passions find a logical In-Order-That, by Him is the perpetual recurrence of Art assured."

Herod, bemoaning the difficulty of turning his people from superstitious religious people into civilized people of Reason:

"Legislation is helpless against the wild prayer of longing that rises, day in, day out, from all these households under my protection: 'O God, put away justice and truth for we cannot understand them and do not want them. Eternity would bore us dreadfully. Leave Thy heavens and come down to our earth of waterclocks and hedges. Become our uncle. Look after Baby, amuse Grandfather, escort Madam to the Opera, help Willy with his home-work, introduce Muriel to a handsome naval officer. Be interesting and weak like us, and we will love you as we love ourselves.'"

I love the combination of whimsy with serious ideas. This is very much worth reading. "The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all," says the Narrator, and we all know that's true.

Other things I've been reading are books #21 and #22 of 2007: The Arraignment, by Steve Martini (OK, but not really my kind of book), and Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen. Rise and Shine was excellent; I was drawn into lives which are very different from mine and came to care about the characters. I found the book satisfying and I will look for more by Quindlen.

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