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Auden’s September 1, 1939

auden1 If asked to name my favourite poem by WH Auden, I would probably say In Memory of WB Yeats though I like any number of his poems: The Unknown Citizen, Lay Your Sleeping Head My Love, O Tell Me the Truth about Love, Funeral Blues, Refugee Blues, Night Mail

See, the list doesn't include one of his most famous poems, September 1, 1939, marking the day when Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II, when he was in America.

To be honest, I never particularly liked the opening lines, which are the ones most often quoted. But, while reading an article on him in the Guardian, I looked up the poem again and was moved by the way it rose from despair to anger to the ringing affirmation of faith in humanity in the last lines. 

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.

Defenceless 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.

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Abhijit

Abhijit loves reading and writing.

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