|The prose poem "The Meditation of Simeon"
from Auden's For the Time Being reflects Auden's own theological and
philosophical thinking at the time and shows the profound (if somewhat scattered) reach of
Auden's poetic and philosophical sensitivity. The meditation's argument unfolds in
I. The conditions that must be exhausted before the incarnation
II. The results of the incarnation (speeches 8-12).
These further break down into several subsections:
I. The Conditions
A. "As long as--" the other options concerning the fall
1. As long as some degree of the original intimacy between humanity
and the creation existed, there was the temptation to believe the fall was neither
complete nor final (speech 1).
2. As long as there were various attempts to be made at
self-actualization, growth, or improvement, there was still hope that the fall was simply a
matter of a childhood, even a necessary one, that we must grow out of, instead of a
judgment and expulsion (speech 2).
3. As long as there were still projects or schemes to overcome the
fall, there remained hope that the fall could either be overturned or had been only an
accident not a choice (speech 3).
B. "Before the--" the philosophical and psychological
1. There needed to remain no place for human subjectivity
to solve its own problems. God the Positive must needs have no claims of humanity
solving its problems through removal of barriers or issues (speech 4).
2. There needed to remain no place for philosophical
speculations. We could not believe that we would save ourselves by solving the
problem of the one and the many, the real and apparent, or the subject-object problem.
God the Infinite must needs have us come to an awareness of our own subjective
claims in these matters (speech 5).
3. There needed to remain no place for psychological claims of
the unconsciousness, as if this could account for original sin. God the Unconditional
must needs have us see the limits of self-knowledge through psychosis (speech 6).
C. "From the beginning until now--" the condition of
absolute despair" (speech 7)
1. God has spoken of the incarnation through the witness of the
2. Yet this witness must be misunderstood as long as one could deny
either the impossibility or the necessity of the incarnation.
3. Only when humanity had reached an absurd point (an existential
leap of faith) would they have no choice but to either understand and believe or
understand and reject.
II. The Results
A. "But here and now--" God's I AM becomes THOU ART
1. The incarnation has always been implicit in the Godhead. And it
has been feared in the I AM, the eternal Being, of God, for we can only sense the
tremendous mystery and wholly otherness of God.
2. But this otherness has now been made clear to us in the THOU ART
of the incarnation. (cf. John 1:1-14) Christ becomes a human being in a personal
relationship that we can know within our weakness.
B. "By the event of this birth--" The meaning of all
existence is measured (speech 9).
1. Christ's birth is the one absolutely necessary event by which all
other events are measured, become contingent, and become important.
2. Christ is no symbol, being the measure by whom everything else is
C. The incarnation's impact upon all human knowledge and culture.
1. "By him is dispelled"--In the incarnation, we
understand that we are freely tempted and of necessity have faith. Likewise, all
history can be predicted by whether we are governed by self-love or by love of God and
neighbor (speech 10).
2. "Because in Him the Flesh--" How the incarnation gives
art and the imagination direction and meaning (speech 11)
a. The incarnation is truly the uniting of the Logos with human
physicality. It is not a magical (i.e. aesthetic) symbol. As a result,
imagination as mimesis is legitimate; we are not limited to playing with images.
b. Likewise, the struggle between virtue and fate is not limited to
a few epic or tragic heroes; rather, it is a matter of the fallen human will.
c. Nor are common or comic things ugly, for the incarnation is God's
d. All situations are now of interest because God has valued the
e. Thus, since all human passion has a reason, art will continue as
a meaningful pursuit.
3. "Because in Him the Word--"How the incarnation redeems
reason and makes science meaningful (speech 12).
a. Because in the incarnation, God is united to physicality, reason
is no longer locked in the problem of the one and the many.
i. This position rejects those who would deny God is one, as well as
those who claim that God is unconcerned with his creation.
ii. It likewise rejects the claim of Israel that God is only
concerned with them.
b. God's truth is not divided, yet the opportunities to understand
that truth through science are boundless because of the infinite variety and love God
(Logos) has revealed in the creation.
c. Thus, our science has purpose and continued existence.
4. "And because of His visitation--" Because of the
incarnation, we no longer have to pursue salvation but surrender to God's action. Our
peace is found in opening ourselves to God's pursuit of us (speech 13).
The Song of the Chorus
Interspersed throughout this meditation is the song of the chorus.
Notice how it mirrors Simeon's meditation in its themes. It, too, breaks down into
a statement of the problem--the human fall with all its bleak consequences--and a
statement of the results--new hope and meaning in God.
Here the chorus' song is gathered together:
When we woke, it was day; we went on weeping.
We danced in the dark, but were not deceived.
Lions came loping into the lighted city.
We looked at our Shadow, and Lo, it was lame.
Promising to meet, we parted forever.
The bravest drew back on the brink of the Abyss.
The eternal spaces were congested and depraved.
Now and forever, we are not alone.
We have right to believe that we really exist.
The distresses of choice are our chance to be blessed.
Safe in His silence, our songs are at play.
Our lost Appearances are saved by His love.
Its errors forgiven, may our Vision come home.