I like this poem. I've always wanted to incorporate it into a sermon and am trying to figure out if maybe this is the year. Of course there are phrases and images that few (maybe only the one woman who was born in Austria) of the members of the congregation will be able to understand, so I probably will just end up using the superscription "Grace dances. I would pipe. Dance ye all." This is appropriate since I do sometimes "pipe" on my recorder.
According to some of the "old timers" when I was in Wien in the 80s, Auden would occasionally come in to Vienna to attend the Anglican Church there. He mentions in the poem that he was "obedient to Canterbury." The poem has memories of the cold war. I was in Vienna when the border to Hungary opened up. The traffic jams in Vienna when the Hungarians came in hoards to shop were quite amazing. One day I had to turn my car around half-way home from work. Traffic wasn't moving at all. I parked my car in the UN garage and took the U-Bahn home.
So, some other images this poem evokes for me: the onion-top steeples of the churches in nearly every town, the stories of the last Emperor, Franz-Josef still beloved in spite of his eccentricities and the gruss-gott greetings you get, especially when hiking or in small towns.
Of course, it's also an indictment of war and colonialism, but that part is not for tomorrow's sermon.
Whitsunday in Kirchstetten by W.H. Auden (1962)
(for H.A. Reinhold)
Grace dances. I would pipe. Dance ye all.
Komm Schöpfer Geist I bellow as Herr Beerpicks up our slim offerings and Pfarrer Lustkandl
quietly gets on with the Sacrifice
as Rome does it: outside car-worshippers enactthe ritual exodus from Viennatheir successful cult demands (though reckoning time
by the Jewish week and the Christian year
like their pedestrian fathers).When Mass is over,although obedient to Canterbury,
I shall be well gruss-gotted, asked to contributeto Caritas though a metic come home
to lunch on my own land: no doubt, if the Allies had not
conquered the Ost-Mark, if the dollar fell,
the Gemutlichkeit would be less, but when was peace
or its concomitant smile the worse
for being undeserved?In the onion-tower overhead
bells clash at the Elevation, calling
on Austria to change: whether the world has improved
is doubtful, but we believe it could
and the divine Tiberius didn’t. Rejoice, the bells
cry to me. Blake’s Old Nobodaddy
in his astronomic telescopic heaven,Army, Navy, Law, Church, nor a Prince
say who is papabile. (The Ape of the Living God
knows how to stage a funeral though,
as penitents like it: Babel, like Sodom, stillhas plenty to offer, though of course it drawsa better sort of crowd.) Rejoice we who were borncongenitally deaf are ableto listen now to rank outsiders.The Holy Ghostdoes not abhor a golfer's jargon,a Lower-Austrian accent, the cadences evenof my own little Anglo-Americanmusico-literary set (though difficult,saints at least may think in algebrawithout sin): but no sacred nonsense can stand Him.Our magic syllables melt away,our tribal formulae are laid bare: since this morning,it is with a vocabularymade wholesomely profane, open in lexiconsto our foes to translate, that we endeavoreach in his idiom to express the true magnalia
which need no hallowing from us, loaning terms,
exchanging graves and legends. (Maybe, when just now
Kirchstetten prayed for the dead, only I
remembered Franz Joseph the Unfortunate, who danced
once in eighty-six years and never
used the telephone.)An altar bell makes a noise
as the Body of the Second Adam
is shown to some of his torturers, forcing them
to visualize absent enemies,
with the same right to grow hybrid corn and be wicked
as an Abendlander. As crows fly,
ninety kilometers from here our habits end,
where minefield and watchtower say
NO EXIT from peace-loving Crimtartary, except for crows
and agents of peace: from Loipersback
to the Bering Sea not a living stockbroker,
and church attendance is frowned upon
like visiting brothels (but the chess and physics
are still the same). We shall bury you
and dance at the wake, say her chiefs: that says Reason
is unlikely. But to most peopleI'm the wrong color: it could be the looter's turnfor latrine duty and the flogging block,my kin who trousered Africa, carried our smellto germless poles.Down a Gothic navecomes our Pfarrer now, blessing the West with water:we may go. There is no Queen's Englishin any context for Geist or Esprit: about
catastrophe or how to behave in onewhat do I know, except what everyone knows-if there when Grace dances, I should dance.