Skip to content

A Poem by W.H. Auden

Walter Logeman who has been guiding me into the world of blogging and web pages on
Word Press sent me this poem to lead me into the how to post or page an article or

You will see that I posted a comment on his posting and I copy it here after the poem.

SEPTEMBER 1, 1939 W.H. Auden

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.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
‘I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,’
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Comment I posted

We must love one another or die,
May I, composed like them,
Of Eros and of dust,
Show an affirming flame

September 1939 is marked at four and a quarter years by a cigarettes burning brand in an underground train. Suddenly marched to an evacuation point and thence to East Ham District Line Station. On to the train with my mother – some mothers evacuated with small children. We were to go to Slough as a supposed safe haven to live with a woman and her parrot while the phoney war made a stuttered and stalled. The man with the cigarette stood close beside me in the crush. He breathed out, unconsciously floated his hand down to hang it loose. Its bright tip bit burning into the back of my hand. That is the biggining of the Second World War. Bombs doodlebugs and rockets come later.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Walter Logeman | October 15, 2008 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Hi Don,

    This post is developing a wonderful history! From a post to a page, with a comment, and now I have moved it back to a post.

    It is Categorised and tagged. I have also inserted the “More” markup, so the whole long thing does not clutter up the layout.

    If this were a piece of writing of yours you wanted to feature, it could be added to the “Don’s Writing” page.

    However, it is ablog post IMO.



Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *