W. H. Auden’s Horae Canonicae

Horae Canonicae

The phrase means canonical hours, and Auden has written a poem, set on Good Friday, for each of the seven offices of the monastic day.

An excerpt:

What we know to be not possible,

Though time after time foretold

By wild hermits, by shaman and sybil

Gibbering in their trances,

Or revealed to a child in some chance rhyme

Like will and kill, comes to pass

Before we realize it: we are surprised

At the ease and speed of our deed

And uneasy: It is barely three,

Mid-afternoon, yet the blood

Of our sacrifice is already

Dry on the grass; we are not prepared

For silence so sudden and so soon;

The day is too hot, too bright, too still,

Too ever, the dead remains too nothing.

What shall we do till nightfall?

Just as I was about to post this item I learned that the BBC’s Radio 3 is featuring all seven poems at intervals throughout the day today. The poems are introduced by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and read by the actor Tom Durham. You can listen here.

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