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For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio (W.H. Auden: Critical Editions) Hardcover – May 26, 2013
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"Beautiful."--Mark Schorer, New York Times
"For the Time Being is efficiently annotated and interestingly introduced."--Lachlan MacKinnon, Times Literary Supplement
The oratorio . . . carries [its theme] through a series of resourceful modulations to a music-hall finale, setting the Flight into Egypt--'the Land of Unlikeness'--against a real-estate development of the Waste Land. The perplexities and strivings of the intellectual, the man with the mirror, are profoundly grasped and impressively orchestrated. . . . Auden, like most intelligent believers, affirms a positive faith by a kind of double negation, a denial of doubt, a questioning of skepticism. He is more adept at burying Caesar than at praising Christ, more anxious for a Messiah than confident in the Revelation."--Harry Levin, New Republic
"'The Christmas Oratorio' contains very fine passages, is amusing as well as being serious, and . . . has the power in some of the choruses, of bringing to mind the mighty chorales of Bach."--Stephen Spender, Time and Tide
"[A] long-awaited, happy-making edition. . . . I am incapable of reading the last pages of For the Time Being without tears. . . . The trip will be surreal, as For the Time Being often is, but it will end as For the Time Being ends, with 'joy.'"--John Timpane, Philadelphia Inquirer
"[S]plendid critical edition."--Cyntha Haven, Book Haven
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The introduction by Alan Jacobs is a lapidary interpretation of the poem's relationship to Auden's life and intellectual interests. Jacobs' textual notes enrich the reader's understanding of the poem without drifting into pedantry.
And the poem itself is a masterpiece.
But at this point, "For the Time Being" has not done that for me. Auden, when he wrote this, was himself early on his own journey back to Christ. Not to say there aren't some gems in this. There are: Joseph's demand for certainty is not met. He must follow the normal course of events on his unique journey. Same as for us. I likely will not be in the same place next year as as I am now, so I will go back to this next Advent. The Holy Spirit is full of surprises, and I am likely to find some in this work when I am ready.
When we read Chaucer, for example, the obscurity is not intentional; he writes the plain Thames Valley English of his time, and we need notes only because we are separated from his language by 500 years.
When we read a modern poet, though, there should be no obscurity or a need for more than a very few notes. Such turbidity as “Love knows of no somatic tyranny; / For homes are built for Love’s accommodation / By bodies from the void they occupy” (p. 45) annoys the reader instead of enlightening or delighting him.
There are moments when the narrative works, as in this Roman proclamation which surely echoes early-war notices from the English government:
CITIZENS OF THE EMPIRE, GREETING. ALL MALE PERSONS
WHO SHALL HAVE ATTAINED THE AGE OF TWENTY-ONE
YEARS OR OVER MUST PROCEED IMMEDIATELY TO THE
VILLAGE, TOWNSHIP, CITY, PRECINCT OR OTHER LOCAL
ADMINISTRATIVE AREA IN WHICH THEY WERE BORN AND
THERE REGISTER THEMSELVES AND THEIR DEPENDENTS IF
ANY WITH THE POLICE. WILFUL FAILURE TO CMPLY WITH
THIS ORDER IS PUNISHABLE BY CONFISCATION OF GOODS
AND LOSS OF CIVIL RIGHTS. (P. 29)
But this excellent mockery of governmentspeak is rare in its clarity.Read more ›