Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Small Suffering

John Lithgow wrote a wonderful introduction to W. H. Auden in his book The Poets' Corner. It begins: "W. H. Auden was the furthest thing from the sensitive poet holed up in a garret. . . ." It's a fun read if you choose to look it up. The poem reproduced in this book is famous, and justly so. I hope you enjoy.

Musee des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

I previously posted "No One Will Ever Know," my poem which most closely relates to this idea of suffering--and joy--being of personal, not global, importance. So I have to choose another. A retired Indian Pastor I met on the metro in Baltimore shared a proverb with me: A sorrow shared is a sorrow halved, and a joy shared is a joy doubled. Maybe personal, passing suffering can be something we choose to make significant, as well as personal, passing joys.

Brother Jones


My friend is quiet, his voice is mild, his smiles
are soft, and when we talk it never lasts
too long. He’s never touched me, and our pasts
have only met, our futures spread out miles
and miles apart. My life is mine to live;
he’ll not intrude. Yet he has listened to
the Spirit whisper what I need, and through
His stillness knew just how to give.
He listened, taught, fought, and loved to show
me how to fight in peace and grow beyond
the fears of man by taking up the trials
of humankind one thought, one step, one mo-
ment at a time. Now we must hope this bond
of friendship might help friends across the miles.

This was about Stephen Jones, the BYU physicist who taught my Senior Religion Seminar for science majors. It was a wonderful course. One of the most memorable days was when he shared his personal thoughts and experiences on how Charity can help us deal with mental illness. Every year I learn a little more how right he was when it comes to enduring change.

1 comment:

  1. The painter Brueghel has used this idea of the privacy of experience in more than one of his paintings. One of my favorites is the vision of Paul on the road to Damascus. Another is the arrival of Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem. Another is the slaying of the innocents. What I want to do is get to the point where these private feelings and experiences of others matter to me.

    I love Auden's essays and like this particular poem of his. Much of his other poetry leaves me cold.