Sunday, April 12, 2009

Auden on Luther


With conscience cocked to listen for the thunder,
He saw the Devil busy in the wind,
Over the chiming steeples and then under
The doors of nuns and doctors who had sinned.

What apparatus could stave off disaster
Or cut the brambles of man's error down?
Flesh was a silent dog that bites its master,
World a still pond in which its children drown.

The fuse of Judgement spluttered in his head:
"Lord smoke these honeyed insects from their hives.
All Works, Great Men, Societies are bad.
The Just shall live by Faith..." he cried in dread.

And men and women of the world were glad,
Who'd never cared or trembled in their lives.

I think this poem captures Luther's psychological sensitivities, his general perturbations of mind quite well--his "dread." It makes the final couplet that much more caustic. Luther, whether you like him or not, struggled greatly within his own tormented self to come to his formulation of "by faith alone." But how easy so many follow without experiencing such profound internal struggle. Can those who "never cared or trembled in their lives" really get it? Their being "glad" comes off as flippant, perhaps shallow, juxtaposed to Luther's "dread."

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"in their useful lives" as the better version has it. I think Auden added those lines later or took them out...can't recall which.