For the Time Being, a Christmas Oratorio, is one of W. H. Auden's
book-length poems and by many is considered the finest work ac-
complished by its author. One poet has described it as the most
"minute dissection of the spiritual illness of our day" ( Louise
Bogan). It was characterized by a critic in Time Magazineas
"simultaneously an intense declaration of the poet's new found reli-
gious faith and a rejection of the more self-centered aspects of his
brilliant past." In connection with the excerpting of The Massacre
of the Innocents, the closing section of the Oratorio, Mr. Auden did
not feel he had anything to say about it. "You might point out,"
he added, "that it is far harder to pick a representative piece in
poetry than it is in prose."
HEROD BECAUSE, I am bewildered, because I must decide, because my decision must be in conformity with Nature and Necessity, let me honour those through whom my nature is by necessity what it is.
To Fortune--that I have become Tetrarch, that I have escaped assassination, that at sixty my head is clear and my digestion sound.
To my Father--for the means to gratify my love of travel and study.
To my Mother--for a straight nose.
To Eva, my coloured nurse--for regular habits.
To my brother, Sandy, who married a trapeze-artist and died of drink--for so refuting the position of the Hedonists.