Sunday, December 27, 2009

Scott Cairns, "Advent"

Here is the poem by Scott Cairns that I mentioned in my previous post. That post was already too long even without the poem, but the poem seemed too significant and spiritual to leave out altogether.
Well, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas—everywhere, children eyeing the bright lights and colorful goods, traffic a good deal worse than usual, and most adults in view looking a little puzzled, blinking their eyes against the assault of stammering bulbs and public displays of goodwill. We were all embarrassed, frankly, the haves and the have-nots—all of us aware something had gone far wrong with an entire season, something had eluded us. And, well, it was strenuous, trying to recall what it was that had charmed us so, back when we were much smaller and more oblivious than not concerning the weather, mass marketing, the insufficiently hidden faces behind those white beards and other jolly gear. And there was something else: a general diminishment whose symptoms included the Xs in Xmas, shortened tempers, and the aggressive abandon with which most celebrants seemed to push their shiny cars about. All of this seemed to accumulate like wet snow, or like the fog which our habitual inversion tried to choke us, or to blank us out altogether, so that, of a given night, all that appeared over the mess we had made of the season was what might be described as a nearly obscured radiance, just visible through the gauze, either the moon disguised by a winter veil, or some lost star—isolated, distant, sadly dismissing of us, and all our expertly managed scene.


Scott Cairns said...

Thanks for your kind reception of the poem. Please tweak the adjective, adding the "d" to "obscured" so that the line makes sense.

Again, thank you!

RC said...

Paul, thank you for posting Scott Cairns's poem in follow-up to your "holy-day" reflection. The poem is truly special and really "incarnates" the kind of wisdom expressed in your reflection. And how special that Scott Cairns read your post and helped "edit" your posting of it! His way of bringing together the spiritual and the everyday in the poem is beautiful and true. I've told you, I think, how much his prose book A Short to the Edge meant to me as well as being able to dialogue with him as he ate lunch one day at the 2008 Festival of Faith and Writing. I'm grateful for your sharing and investing in our community!

living stones said...

Paul, I think it is neat too that Carins responded to your posting of his poem. I'm not sure, but maybe because he drew attention to "obscured" I'm noticing the effectiveness of the line, "...a nearly obscured radiance," I'm sad for my part in the obscuring, but I'm really grateful that radiance wins. Also, the poem helps me slow down and "recall what it was that had charmed us so,"--connection with a family (His and ours).It also reminds me yet again to let go of my desire to manage, i.e., control, the scenes in my life. Thanks for sharing the whole poem. Blessings, Anna

Scott Cairns said...

It occurs to me that all y'all might find the end of W.H. Auden's "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio" to be worth poring over. I know I do, especially this line: "To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all."

Good journey, then, back to a place where, as he says: "Everything became a You and nothing was an It."


Well, so that is that.
Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes -
Some have got broken – and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week -
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully -
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
“Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake.”
They will come, all right, don’t worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God’s Will will be done,
That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.


He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

RC said...

Scott, wow, thanks so much for sharing this excerpt from Auden's "For the Time Being" with us. I had not read it for decades and had forgotten its power and insight. Amazing. Again, thank you.

Bill said...

How delightful that you posted reflections on Christmas (or Xmas - see my post to your other blog). One thing I'm learning in life is that wisdom comes from reflection and I hadn't taken time to reflect on Christmas passing. I used to think wisdom came from experience but everyone has experience and not everyone is wise. I'm beginning to realize that without reflecting on experiences I am wasting them and not maturing in wisdom.

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