The poem Horae Canonicae by W.H. Auden gets more powerful for me over time. In the poem, Auden explores fixed times of prayer based on traditions of the Christian Church. In particular, he imagines each of the Canonical Hours on the day of Christ’s crucifixion. Beyond religious traditions and rituals, Auden captures an underlying truth of life. We don’t live in an Edenic state; we live in a world of choice, of will, of action that can lead to suffering. Yet, despite our mistakes, each of us is worthy of love and forgiveness. These works are my attempt to bring Auden’s words to life in drawings.
For me this work is an awakening and emergence of the mind and body into the world and into a new day.
“Without a name or history I wake
Between my body and the day”
By 9 am, for many of us, our social day is just starting. What possibilities and consequences, joys and sorrows lie ahead of us as we enter into our various roles in life?
“Let me get through this coming day...
At this hour we all might be anyone...”
By noon, we can get lost in our profession or to the “social beast” of the crowds we belong to. How do we maintain a sense of individuality in times when it is easy to get caught up in the energy of the people surrounding us? How can we discern when our actions around others are aligned with our own personal values?
“The crowd sees only one thing
(which only the crowd can see)
an epiphany of that
which does whatever is done”
Nature is a passive spectator to our destructive nature. We can feel remorseful for the sorrows we cause yet often have little choice but to return to our routines. How do we remain in a state of grace even when we make mistakes?
“Mid-afternoon, yet the blood
of our sacrafice is already
Dry on the grass;
we are not prepared
For silence so sudden so soon”
We all live with contradictions in our lives. We are both of the heavens and of this earth. Can we recognize our dualities, both the darkness and the light, and accept they are part of what makes each of us strong, whole and beautiful with potential to grow?
“For Sun and Moon supply their
conforming masks, but in this
hour of civil twilight all must
wear their own faces, And it is
now that our two paths cross”
As we fall asleep, our body escapes from consciousness giving us momentary relief from our desires and suffering. This feels like a time for peaceful moments of personal forgiveness and healing in our lives.
“I cannot remember
A thing between noon and three
Nothing is with me now but a sound
A heart’s rhythm, a sense of stars”
No poem was written for this hour. To me this work is about silence and mystery and a deep knowing that everything begins in darkness. Are we willing to surrender to the darkness and unknown in order to grow?
At this hour, we are free of our thinking selves and as close to our natural selves as we can get. This poem feels like a celebration of the gift of being -- that we are loved by the universe despite the imperfections of human nature. Alone and together, cycles and integration.
“Among the leaves the small birds sing;
The crow of the cock commands awaking:
In solitude, for company”
These are notes I took while reading Auden's poem with an emphasis on the words that inspired the series. I feel grateful that Auden gives us a fresh way to reflect on the intensity and beauty of the story of Christ's Passion outside the confines of an institution and church.