Patrick Ryan, S.J., vice president for Mission and Ministry, hosted a series of lunchtime seminars for Fordham faculty and staff featuring readings from poet W.H. Auden to mark the Advent season. The focus was on Auden’s 1942 work For The Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio, as well as some of the author’s shorter poems and essays.
The Englishman, whom Father Ryan called “an extraordinarily prolific writer,” contributed to Fordham’sThought journal during the 1940s and 1950s. Auden was raised by a devout Anglican family in Yorkshire, England, but moved away from his Christian faith in his teens. After moving to New York in 1939, however, he began to reaffirm that faith, and this reaffirmation is reflected in his poetry and other writings.
“I chose Auden for Advent because he fits into my interest in somewhat marginal, even odd Christian types,” said Father Ryan, who in the spring hosted a Lenten reading series on Kierkegaard. “When he was writing A Christmas Oratorio, he was just coming to terms with his sexuality, his politics and his faith.”
Seminar attendees learned that Auden actually attempted to enlist in the United States armed services during World War II, but was rejected because of his homosexuality. This, and a turn to Marxism, had initially led Auden to move away from his Anglican upbringing.
Some of the series’ early discussion centered on Auden’s commentaries on war, both as a poet and in his essays published under the nom de plume Didymus. The essays, ranging from opinion pieces on anti-Semitism and student rebellion to book reviews, appearing in such publications as The New Republic and The Nation, revealed a wit and playful intelligence, combined with a wicked political satire. For instance, Auden once said, “Americans are not efficient. If you’ve ever been to a faculty meeting you know that.”
Father Ryan said he was pleased with the turnout and insights of staff and faculty. “The Fordham staff participation delighted me; at each luncheon I learned something new from the way different Fordham people read the work,” he said.
By Brian Kluepfel