In the midst of war, the loss of his mother, and the heartbreak of unrequited love, poet W.H. Auden was rediscovering his faith. And the fitting response to the darkness and despair and apathy around him, he thought, was the Christmas event. So he set to work on a Christmas Oratorio called For the Time Being.
In the midst of war, the loss of his mother, and the heartbreak of unrequited love, poet W.H. Auden was rediscovering his faith. And the fitting response to the darkness and despair and apathy around him, he thought, was the Christmas event. So he set to work on a Christmas Oratorio called For the Time Being. Originally meant to be performed and sung, what emerged is a much more sobering and stark retelling of the Christmas narrative than you're used to. Auden's modernist poetry becomes a way for a modern humanity—whose resources are spent, whose plans have gone awry, whose hopes have been misplaced, whose sense of time has been unwound—to find redemption amidst the quotidian, the mundane, and the everyday. But also always in an eternally full "moment of decision"—a response to the bare fact of the Incarnation of God in infant Jesus. Evan Rosa is joined by writer Jeff Reimer (Associate Editor, Comment Magazine), who suggests that this modernist retelling of Christmas helps us to diagnose and treat the quintessentially modern vice of acedia, the noonday demon. They discuss the anachronistic cast of characters Auden uses to comment on the human condition. They read and marvel at several passages of the text. And they consider what Auden takes to be the matter of ultimate importance in our experience of Christmas: responding to the audacious claim that God has become human.
About Jeff Reimer
Jeff Reimer is a writer with bylines at Commonweal, Comment, Plough, and Fare Forward. He is Associate Editor for Comment Magazine. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jreimr or check out his website for links to his writing.
- W.H. Auden's For the Time Being (edited with introduction by Alan Jacobs)
- Read Jeff Reimer's What Comes After: W. H. Auden’s cure for the post-Christmas blues
- Dealing with the Post-Christmas Blues
- Flipping the feast for the fast in contemporary Christmas culture
- W.H. Auden's For the Time Being
- Darkness, despair as the context for the Advent apocalyptic setting
- "Very little Christmas cheer"
- Auden's context for writing For the Time Being: World War II, the death of his mother, and his re-discovered faith
- Possibilities for hope and redemption
- Reason and optimism have run out
- Central question of For the Time Being: "What do we do with this singular Christmas event?"
- Cast of characters
- Existentialist influence on Auden
- The silence of Christ in the poem
- Strange characters: Intuition, Sensation, Feeling, and Thought as an expression of the human self
- Mary and Joseph: Divergent responses to the Angel Gabriel
- Mary's humility and magnanimity together
- What it's like to be Joseph
- The temptation of St. Joseph
- Redeeming the mundane and the quotidian
- Acedia: the quintessentially modern vice
- Charles Taylor: "Our present condition is one in which many people are happy living for goals which are purely imminent; they live in a way that takes no account of the transcendent."
- "The Time Being"—ennui, acedia, and depression following Christmas
- The noonday demon
- Simeon: Auden's intellectual, theological response to the incarnation
- Herod: Auden's stoic intellectual, politically indifferent, tragic-comic figure
- Stoic virtue: apathea, or "cultivated indifference"
- The incarnation does not allow for cultivated indifference
- Herod's cultivated indifference ends up becoming outright violent resistance and the massacre of the innocents
- The difficulty of inhabiting a moment the way we're meant to
- The way, the truth, the life
- "Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety."
- This podcast featured writer Jeff Reimer
- Edited and Produced by Evan Rosa
- Hosted by Evan Rosa
- Production Assistance by Martin Chan, Nathan Jowers, Natalie Lam, and Logan Ledman
- A Production of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture at Yale Divinity School https://faith.yale.edu/about
- Support For the Life of the World podcast by giving to the Yale Center for Faith & Culture: https://faith.yale.edu/give