And here I thought all of Auden's best lines were in his face.
----- Original Message -----
From: "Carrol Cox" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, November 20, 2007 2:48 PM
Subject: Auden on Eliot & Religion
> From the current NYRB (Dec 6) p.34
> Although Auden told Eliot in 1940 that he had come to something close to
> Eliot's religious position, he soon realized that this was true only in
> the sense that they both attended Christian churches and practiced
> Anglican rituals. With the greatest possible courtesy, he went out of
> his way to point out "a discordant snobbish note" in Eliot's writings on
> religion. Eliot was mistaken, Auden also wrote, to suggest that culture
> was transmitted by the higher social classes, when in fact it had been
> transmitted by the Church for most of the past two thousand years.
> As for the religious allegory in Eliot's late plays, Auden politely
> insisted he was "absolutely certain" Eliot never meant to suggest that
> the characters who were called to a religious vocation had been called
> because they were more intelligent and from a higher social class than
> those who were not called, "but that is exactly what the comedy
> convention he is using is bound to suggest."
> "Nothing can be essentially serious for man," Auden wrote, "except that
> which is given to all men alike, and that which is commanded to all men
> alike." (He elsewhere wrote: "One thing, and one thing only, is serious:
> loving one's neighbor as one's self." ) What he did not quite say
> publicly about Eliot's religion was that he regarded it as frivolous,
> not serious, because it was given and commanded to some people and not
> Auden saw in Eliot a tendency he was sharply conscious of in himself:
> the wish to believe in a god who was "an image of his image of himself"
> (the phrase is from his poem "Terce"). Auden's favorite illustration of
> this flattering fantasy was the female impersonator Bert Savoy, who was
> projecting his own image when he remarked during a thunderstorm,
> "There's Miss God at it again." (The remark became famous because Savoy
> was struck dead by lightning a few moments later.) Among friends, Auden
> used "Miss God" to refer to his own fantasy of a deity with providential
> intentions for himself, as in: "Miss God has decided to keep me celibate
> this summer." The joke made a serious point about everyone's wish for a
> universe whose purposes were adjusted to their own.
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