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March 03, 2005



You're right. That is a difficult one.

Joe Styles

It's a great poem.
The last two stanzas, especially--where Auden contrasts the reality and presence of the dead Christ and all our attempts to rationalize, explain, understand, deny, excuse, hypothesize, mythify--"use this event," as Auden says in "Nones," while "its meanings/wait for our lives."
I do suspect the rather obscure phrase "just what Appearances He saves" alludes to Owen Barfield's then just-published book, "Saving the Appearances: a study in idolatry," published in 1957, the year before Auden wrote this piece. The basic idea Barfield developed there was that all scientific hypotheses originally developed as means to "save the appearance," i.e., to describe in an abstract way a perhaps chaotic set of observations--and that originally, before the seventeenth century, all such hypotheses were considered equally true or probable as long as all the observations (the appearances) were fairly described ("saved" from disorder or chaos). There's a sly, Audenesque suggestion, too, that all human theories of the Atonement are equally exercies in such "saving of the appearances,"--and even further, that Jesus (fully human, remember--"perfect man" acording to Chalcedon) himself was making a complete leap of faith toward the Father in freely accepting his death . . . .

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