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What W.H. Auden got wrong

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The wake of Deacon Tom Bello. was a gathering of joy. Though I never met him, by all accounts the atmosphere at his wake was a reflection of his life. While numerous people stood up and told stories of how his enthusiasm for life enriched their own, the most beautiful account came from his wife, Judy.

As Tom became more and more confined to his room, she said, the family sought ways to keep him engaged. "How do you find joy for someone who's always radiated joy, when his life is so physically confined?" asked Judy.

They read children's books, watched movies, told stories, looked at art and read poetry. One night, when he was already having trouble talking, Tom was able to say, "Stop all the clocks." Fortunately Judy remembered that it was the first line of a W.H. Auden poem, which she then read to Tom.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

"We sat there for a moment and looked at each other and said, 'Why did we like that poem?' Judy told the mourners. "Auden messed it up big time."

"It says, 'I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.' " Then Judy looked out into the crowd at the wake. "Mary Lou, do you love your husband any less today lo these many years after he passed? Isn't he still with you every single day? That loves goes on and on.

"Everyone who has lost a loved one knows that love continues," she said. "It can't be quite the same, but Tom will be in my heart forever.

"The other thing that Auden messed up so badly was this: 'for nothing now can ever come to any good.' Well, this is a crazy, cock-eyed, caravanning world, but the good doesn't end. And Tom's good keeps on going because he made so many of us better people."

Judy's literary analysis was both a beautiful tribute to her husband and a powerful message about the true nature of love.

Di Mauro can be reached at zdimauro@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeydimauro.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016