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"Friday's Child," A Poem By W. H. Auden

Updated: Apr 14, 2020

Friday's Child

(In memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred at Flossenbürg, April 9, 1945)

He told us we were free to choose

But, children as we were, we thought---

"Paternal Love will only use

Force in the last resort

On those too bumptious to repent."

Accustomed to religious dread,

It never crossed our minds He meant

Exactly what He said.

Perhaps He frowns, perhaps He grieves,

But it seems idle to discuss

If anger or compassion leaves

The bigger bangs to us.

What reverence is rightly paid

To a Divinity so odd

He lets the Adam whom He made

Perform the Acts of God?

It might be jolly if we felt

Awe at this Universal Man

(When kings were local, people knelt);

Some try to, but who can?

The self-observed observing Mind

We meet when we observe at all

Is not alarming or unkind

But utterly banal.

Though instruments at Its command

Make wish and counterwish come true,

It clearly cannot understand

What It can clearly do.

Since the analogies are rot

Our senses based belief upon,

We have no means of learning what

Is really going on,

And must put up with having learned

All proofs or disproofs that we tender

Of His existence are returned

Unopened to the sender.

Now, did He really break the seal

And rise again? We dare not say;

But conscious unbelievers feel

Quite sure of Judgement Day.

Meanwhile, a silence on the cross,

As dead as we shall ever be,

Speaks of some total gain or loss,

And you and I are free

To guess from the insulted face

Just what Appearances He saves

By suffering in a public place

A death reserved for slaves.


April 9, 2020

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Apr 14, 2020

The following in an exploration by Dorothy MacFarland of the meaning of "Appearances" in "Friday's Child."

Appearances. The infinite entering into the finite without damaging either one of them. Very complicated, impossible. It is a miracle, the impossible has happened. These two spheres are either totally separate or one negates the other. If everyone is spirit, then flesh is worthless, if sensuous experience is real, then the supernatural is a figment of the imaginations. One or the other. If you have the one it denies the reality of the other.

Appearances refers back to Aristotle who was working with reason, the rational mind, the mind that can construct abstraction, that can live in a world of ideas, things that have…

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