Friday’s Child

Auden wrote this poem, consisting of twelve stanzas, in 1958. It is dedicated to Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was killed in April 1945. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and also a participant of the German resistance movement against the Nazis. It was in this connection that he was involved in a plan by the German Military Intelligence Office to assassinate Adolf Hitler. However, he became arrested and eventually was executed by hanging (only shortly before the end of the war). Bonhoeffer was an opponent of the regime from its very beginnings; for instance, some days after Hitler became Chancellor he warned Germany on the radio against slipping into an idolatrous cult of the Führer (leader), who could very well turn out to be Verführer (mis-leader, or seducer). He was cut off the air in the middle of a sentence (Wikipedia).

As we already came to know in our discussions in class Auden was very much opposed to Nazism, and in this sense he must have seen in Bonhoeffer a kind of hero, fighting in an outstanding manner against the rise of this ideology even in public. In this sense one can understand the dedication of Friday’s Child to Bonhoeffer.

The poem as such can be said to address the element of freedom of choice in the context of Christian justice. In this sense ‘Friday’s Child’ refers to the martyred Christ of Good Friday (Fuller, 2000, p. 478). In the face of Judgement Day to love and to give is the key to Christian justice; however, in contrast to that in our world he “(…) leaves / The bigger bangs to us” (third stanza). As one can notice here, Auden refers to the freedom of human choice to do evil, to destroy the world (by means of bombs). The question as emerging from this is, why does God give us this choice? Auden’s circular answer here is it is because of Redemption as being the final instance of freedom: “(…) a silence on the cross, / As dead as we shall ever be, / Speaks of some total gain or loss, / And you and I are free” (eleventh stanza).

Now the question emerged to me, if Bonhoeffer actually was free to choose his death? One could argue, “no”, he was executed by the Nazis. However, on the other hand, he must have been aware of the life threatening danger of questioning the Nazi ideology at that time. In this sense one would argue, “yes” he freely chose to die. As such Auden seems to regard Bonhoeffer as a kind of martyr: he died for his (public) conviction of Christian values, namely the value of the freedom of choice here in our world. This freedom was taken away by Nazism; but in dying Bonhoeffer gained this freedom back.

References

W.H. Auden

(1958). Friday’s Child. In The Complete Works of W. H. Auden. Mendelson, E. (Ed.). Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Fuller, J.

(2000). W. H. Auden. A Commentary. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press.

Wikipedia

(2010). Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Retrieved February 24, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietrich_Bonhoeffer.

Advertisements

About this entry