The poet W.H. Auden(1907-1973) thought of religion as derived from the commandment: “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself”—an obligation to other human beings despite all their imperfections and in spite of his own. It was an obligation that takes place in the inescapable reality of this world, not in a visionary, an inaccessible world that might or might not exist somewhere else. Auden’s view also reflects my Baha’i ethical and moral beliefs at the core of the Abrahamic religions.
The religious and philosophical views of poets inevitably shape their poetry. Auden’s Christianity shaped the tone and content of his poems and was, for most of his life, the central focus of his art and thought. This is, without question, true of the shaping of my poetry by the Baha’i Faith. This aspect of Auden’s life and work seems to have been the least understood by his readers and friends, partly because he sometimes talked about it in suspiciously frivolous terms, and partly because he used Christian vocabulary in ways that, a few centuries earlier, might have attracted the Inquisitor’s attention---according to Edward Mendelson,(1) a professor of English and Comparative Literature and the Lionel Trilling Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. I hope that readers do not have trouble understanding my Baha’i beliefs as expressed in my poetry. I try to go out of my way to be clear and overt, explicit and serious.
Auden’s version of Christianity was more or less incomprehensible to anyone who thought religion was about formal institutions, supernatural beliefs, ancestral identities, moral prohibitions, doctrinal orthodoxies, sectarian arguments, religious emotions, spiritual aspirations, scriptural authority, or any other conventional aspect of personal or organized religion. Auden took seriously his membership in the Anglican Church and derived many of his moral and aesthetic ideas from Christian doctrines developed over two millennia, but he valued his church and its doctrines only to the degree that they helped to make it possible to love one’s neighbour as oneself. To the extent that they became ends in themselves, or made it easier for a believer to isolate or elevate himself, they became—in the word Auden used about most aspects of Christendom—unchristian. Church doctrines, like all human creations, were subject to judgment.
He made it clear that he understood perfectly well that any belief he might have in the personal God of the monotheist religions was a product of the anthropomorphic language in which human beings think. –Ron Price with thanks to (1)Edward Mendelson, “Auden and God,” a review of Arthur Kirsch’s Auden and Christianity in The New York Review of Books, 6/12/’07.
We come close, here, W.H.,
you and I, but in this era of
1000 Christianities and the
troublesome historicity that
makes belief in Abrahamic
religions and all those smelly
little orthodoxies difficult, &
as George Orwell said were
contending for our souls,1….
I must side with Henry Miller,2
and his company of romantics
with their vitalistic & visionary
intensities seeing as they did
through their own eyes & not
through the eyes of others and
portraying our culture, and its
consumerist quagmire with its
soporific effect on men’s souls.3
1 George Orwell in The Phoenix and the Ashes, Geoffrey Nash, George Ronald, 1984, p.40.
2 American novelist and painter Henry Miller(1891-1980) held the view that the Baha’i Faith would “outlast all the other religious organizations in North America,” op. cit., p.56.
Edited by RonPrice, 01 March 2012 - 09:28 AM.