Thursday, October 6, 2011

Show an Affirming Flame

Democracy Now! shows a speech by journalist Chris Hedges.  My own view is that Chris Hedges is a prophet; others disagree, and in another time, another place, boo him from the stage.  But what I am struck by in the most recent speech is a concluding line, "Show an affirming light", a quote from the poem September 1, 1939 by W. H. Auden.  It is a benedictory line in a poem marking the birth of yet another war, a wishful plea to the self, "May I . . . [like the others swamped by despair] show an affirming light."

The poem also contains the famous line, "We must love one another or die."  Auden is reported to have later loathed the poem and its sentiment, calling it "trash which he is ashamed to have written."  Wikipedia

Demonstrating the depths of his loathing, Auden refused to allow the popular poem to be republished and on one occasion, only acquiesced with a change to the love line thus, "We must love one another and die."

I am no Auden scholar and do not know why he rejected his own words, his own sentiment.  I can guess:  the poem became quite popular, and as with much that becomes popular, I suspect the poem was appropriated in ways Auden never intended, given meaning he did not mean, as with Lyndon Johnson's cruelly ironic use of the love line in his famous 'Daisy' ad in his presidential election campaign.  Or maybe Auden simply changed his mind.  It happens.

Nevertheless, I remain drawn to the benedictory impulse, the desire to show, to be an affirming light.  Maybe that claims too much for the self.  Maybe the Wendell Berry approach is better (I paraphrase freely):  protest not out of any hope, realistic or otherwise, to change the world; rather, protest because you must; protest because to remain silent will corrupt the you that is singularly you.  As Berry says, it is the more modest hope. Wikiquote "A Poem of Difficult Hope"

 In my older age, I find I am less and less interested in the modest, the realistic.  I was much more cautious as a youngster.

Others will have to define the light I cast, if any be cast at all.

For now, all I have and all that I have is benediction:  May I, may you, may we all, cast an affirming light. 

1 comment:

  1. I believe that god created everything to contribute to the wholeness of earth (which i think only god can really define and understand) and therefore in each thing is sense of its place or role to play....besides the sense of what to be god put the choice to be that or not into each of us....when we do not take our rightful matter what the response we get ...we suffer and the world loses and god mourns for us. Ann