2023 Update: What we have here is the first of a series of musings on Charles Taylor, begun many years ago, when this site started in 2009. For navigation purposes, we list and link the five parts here:
- A Secular Age – Charles Taylor’s Acceptable Loss?
- Catholic Tradition, Charles Taylor and Evelyn Waugh
- Catholic Tradition, Charles Taylor and Supernatural Mystery
- Catholic Tradition, Charles Taylor and Charles Krauthammer
- Catholic Tradition, Charles Taylor and Phillip Larkin
And now back to 2009 — Roger Buck
I had started writing this series, when a poem arrived in my e-mail.
Yes I had started writing about the Hollow Horror of Modernity, the Hollow Horror that Charles Taylor, it seems to me fails to do justice to in A Secular Age, when this poem arrived.
This poem – was its arrival just a coincidence? Or was it more?
For if you study it, slowly and carefully dear Reader and if you have Faith, I think you may agree with me that here we have a Vision of Hell.
Moreover, it is a kind of Hell, almost completely unknown to the men and women of the Middle Ages. Humanity sustained by Sacraments knew no horror such as this …
Today I will mainly present the poem with my invitation to you, the Reader to study it very intensely and let your heart feel that THIS is what many a modern heart is feeling inside:
Aubade by Phillip Larkin
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
– The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused – nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
May I be forgiven if I reiterate my encouragement dear Reader, to let your heart feel what Larkin calls this “special way of being afraid”?
To feel, to imagine in your heart: What is it like to be so terribly afraid – continuously – and to see no other remedy but alcohol and company?
What would it be like to be convinced of|”nothing more terrible, nothing more true” than oblivion which:
“No trick dispels. Religion used to try/That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade/Created to pretend we never die.”
This, this dear Reader is a major fruit of modernity. Now Taylor’s thought is complex. But I do not think I wrong him when I say that his perspective is, as he suggests, that our Secular Age is the “least bad” of all …
I repeat myself: one cannot quantify horror in units measured …
But personally Charles Taylor, I am concerned that your loyalty to much of secularism, fails to take in horror such as that of Larkin (May God have mercy on his soul).
And how many millions more like Larkin?
And I am concerned Dr Taylor that your apparently highly nuanced, complex and sophisticated thought has missed out the most important things of all.
You speak in muted terms of the problems and dilemmas of a flatness and meaningless to modern life …
But what of Larkin?
What of Larkin and his cohort in hell? Living day-in, day-out a vision of hell on Earth …
I am concerned that Evelyn Waugh whom you would apparently dismiss as “seductive” was far more on track than you realise, Dr Taylor.
Yes, for it seems to me that Evelyn Waugh saw more acutely that which we must do to address that infinitely aching, soulless horror foreboded by the Final Triumph of the Hollow Men …
To be Continued (Possibly after new material appears elsewhere at this site, in Kim’s Weblog, the Webbursts or the Reviews).