“For the Time Being” for the third day of Advent

On Day three of the Advent season, I’m still thinking about the end of the world as we know it. The Gospel (according to) Mark got me started, with writing about how after the suffering the sun will be dark, the stars will fall…but you don’t know when this will happen. Still, down through the ages people have watched for those signs. I’m not interested in that. What I am interested in is how often we feel our lives are falling apart. Yesterday’s poem came out of experiencing World War I. Today’s poem comes from WH Auden, an excerpt from “For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio.” He wrote during World War II, and that poem speaks from his context, but has that same theme of the beginning of Advent, which is always, seemingly, an end….

The evil and armed draw near;
the weather smells of their hate
and the houses smell of our fear;
Death has opened his white eye
And the black hole calls the thief
As the evil and the armed draw near.
Ravens alight on the wall,
our plans have all gone awry,
The rains will arrive too late,
Our resourceful general
Fell down dead as he drank
and his horses died of grief,
Our navy sailed away and sank;
The evil and the armed draw near.

W. H. Auden, Collected Poems, ed. Edward Mendelson (New York: Modern Library, 2007), 350.

It would be a depressing conversation between Yeats, Auden and Eliot, if you were to put them together as they wrote these poems: Eliot would tell Auden to wait without hope, Yeats would add the obvious: Things fall apart—surely this must be the end. (Eliot, btw, also wrote East Coker during WWII). But Mark wrote his gospel in a time of war as well. Somehow he saw reason to hope: From the fig tree, learn its lesson. As soon as its branch becomes tender…and there are leaves…you know that the summer is near.

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