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Eliot, Auden, God And Me

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The famous poet T.S. Eliot(1888-1965) thought of religion as “the still point in the turning world,” “the heart of light,” “the crowned knot of fire,” “the door we never opened”—something that remained inaccessible, perfect, and eternal, whether or not he or anyone else cared about it, something absolutely unlike the sordid transience of human life. From my perspective Eliot’s view of religion was its essential mystical quality, dealing as it does with the Unknown Reality which the wisdom of the wise and the learning of the learned will never comprehend. Such a view is at the centre of my belief system as a Baha’i.


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.

3 ibid.,p.55.


Ron Price


Edited by RonPrice
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  • 3 years later...

Evelyn Waugh write from his Catholic position.-Ron


Revisiting Brideshead was televised last night.1 I had seen this 11 part series on television back in the 1980s or early 1990s after it first came out in 1981. I had not read the novel, Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder by English writer Evelyn Waugh which was first published in 1945. In 2015 I had the pleasure of seeing the 2008 film version.2  I wrote about the TV series and the film after I had retired from my 50 year life-experience as a student and in paid employment, 1949-1999, and after I had seen the series a second time in Australia.

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Waugh saw this novel, Brideshead Revisited, as his magnum opus but, on reading it later in life, he found what he called its "rhetorical and ornamental language.....distasteful."3 Readers with the interest in this film and this novel should surf-about on Wikipedia and other internet sources for all sorts of bits-and-pieces of information and analysis.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Martin Stannard, "Evelyn Arthur St John Waugh(1903–66),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition,  2007; 2Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years 1903-1939, and Evelyn Waugh: The Later Years 1939-1966, W.W. Norton & Co., NY., 1987 & 1992, resp., V.2, p.492; and3Wikipedia.


Part 3:


Without Christianity you saw

civilization doomed or, as you

put it in your conversion: “it is like stepping out of a Looking- Glass world, where everything  is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made, and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.”1..This is perhaps the most succinct & sufficient description of process in the act of conversions that ever were written in that 20th century.   Waugh's own conversion from the "absurd caricature" of what might be called ultra-modernity to that real world of Catholic orthodoxy was greeted with astonishment by the literary world and it caused a sensation in the media. Do those who have watched Brideshead in these last 30 years know of this? I did not until today and, wanting to know something about how this television series and film came into existence in those last twenty-five years: 1981 to 2007, I learned that there was much to learn with a little research and reading, and not even reading E. Waugh's book at all.......   Part 4:

 “Today we can see it on all sides as the active negation of all that Western culture has stood for. Civilization - and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe - has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity and, without, it has no significance or power to command allegiance. The loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanized state.  It is no longer possible to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it rests."


Waugh concluded the above press statement on his conversion by saying that he saw Catholicism as the "most complete and vital form" of Christianity. The article from which the above is taken was written by Joseph Pearce and it appeared in Lay Witness a publication of Catholic United for the Faith, Inc., an international lay apostolate founded in 1968.


 Ron Price  

14/7/'11 to 12/2/'15.

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