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    still life of bottle, glasses and a cigar box

    Already a Whiff of Lent

    An excerpt from “For the Time Being” tells us why the kitchen table seems to have shrunk during the holidays.

    By W. H. Auden

    January 1, 2024

    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.

    From W. H. Auden, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, Copyright © 1944 . Reprinted by permission of Curtis Brown, Ltd. All rights reserved.

    still life of bottle, glasses and a cigar box

    Stanhope Alexander Forbes, A Christmas Repast, oil on canvas, 1913

    Contributed By W. H. Auden W. H. Auden

    W. H. Auden was an English-born poet and political activist.

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