September 1, 1939

It’s September, which would not be complete without a re-reading of Auden’s great poem, “September 1, 1939“. That was the date of the Nazi invasion of Poland and the beginning of WWII. I’ve never understood why this poem didn’t make the cut in the Collected Poems (apparently Auden, in retrospect, didn’t think much of it – or perhaps he was concerned with false sentiment and “German usage,” as he put it); however, it’s available in the Vintage Selected Poems. And, of course, online. If you’re not familiar with it, read it – then go read Joseph Brodsky’s fine essay on it (it’s in one of his major essay collections). The poem begins:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

(keep reading…)

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