I have not read a lot of Auden- although we have all heard the ‘stop the clocks’ poem used to such brilliant effect in ‘4 weddings and a funeral’-
Even though this poem has had such over exposure, it still reeks with emotion and grief- and manages to put something into words that we all instinctively feel to be ‘true’.
What I did not know was that Auden was a Christian- both his grandfather’s were Anglican ministers, and although he lost his faith as a boy, he found it again in later life, thanks to encountering the writings of Søren Kierkegaard and Reinhold Niebuhr and partly too because of the influence of Charles Williams.
Auden lived a life in interesting times- the clash of great ideologies, and the world war. He was a socialist Englishman who lived in New York, eventually becoming an American citizen. He was gregarious loner and a gay man who longed for the sanctity of marriage.
And he wrote beautiful, sublime poetry, including a collection of poems based around the canonical hours– called ‘Horae Canonicae’.
So here is a slice of it. You can read the whole here.
Anywhere you like, somewhere
on broad-chested life-giving Earth,
anywhere between her thirstlands
and undrinkable Ocean,
the crowd stands perfectly still,
its eyes (which seem one) and its mouths
(which seem infinitely many)
expressionless, perfectly blank.
The crowd does not see (what everyone sees)
a boxing match, a train wreck,
a battleship being launched,
does not wonder (as everyone wonders)
who will win, what flag she will fly,
how many will be burned alive,
is never distracted
(as everyone is always distracted)
by a barking dog, a smell of fish,
a mosquito on a bald head:
the crowd sees only one thing
(which only the crowd can see)
an epiphany of that
which does whatever is done.
Whatever god a person believes in,
in whatever way he believes,
(no two are exactly alike)
as one of the crowd he believes
and only believes in that
in which there is only one way of believing.
Few people accept each other and most
will never do anything properly,
but the crowd rejects no one, joining the crowd
is the only thing all men can do.
Only because of that can we say
all men are our brothers,
superior, because of that,
to the social exoskeletons: When
have they ever ignored their queens,
for one second stopped work
on their provincial cities, to worship
The Prince of this world like us,
at this noon, on this hill,
in the occasion of this dying.