john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    The newly-stung

    BBC Radio Merseyside Thought for the Day 21 February 2005

    Today is the birthday of W.H. Auden. The 20th-century poet now-famous because of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral. If you've seen it you'll remember these immortal lines:

    Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
    Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

    Auden's poem puts so well that feeling of devastation we have when someone very close to us passes away. The anger and frustration too, as in the line, I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

    You might not expect a vicar to say this, but I like Auden's poem. It may be very negative, it may end by saying, nothing now can ever come to any good. But the thing about it is, it's real. It talks about death realistically. Not sentimentally.

    Often, when I visit relatives of deceased they will say, "We've got Dad in the front room if you'd like to go and see him." And when you stand with them looking at the loved one, often all you feel is inadequate in the face of absolute mortality. Like everyone else you find yourself saying silly things like "Doesn't he look peaceful?", which don't mean that much, they're just words to break the silence.

    But mourners realise that all you can do sometimes is stand together in the face of death, sharing your uselessness and vulnerability.

    Auden's poem recognises that death does have a sting. Let's hold in our thoughts today those who have been newly-stung by it.