W.H. Auden's Poem 'September 1, 1939' Still Resonates In Times Of Crisis

By | 2019-09-26 | including 1 item |
It's one of those poems people reach for in times when it feels like the sky is falling. It's also generally regarded as one of the great poems of the 20th century. "September 1, 1939," as its title signals, was written by W.H. Auden in the days immediately following Germany's invasion of Poland, which marked the start of World War II. Auden had left his native England and moved to New York City some nine months earlier, and the famous opening lines of the poem are rooted in the dingy geography of his new home: > I sit in one of the dives > On Fifty-second Street > Uncertain and afraid > As the clever hopes expire > Of a low dishonest decade: In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, all or part of Auden's poem about the unthinkable happening was printed in newspapers and read on the radio. Decades earlier, Lyndon B. Johnson drew on another line from the poem in his famous 1964 "Daisy" campaign commercial, where the image of a young girl plucking daisy petals is obliterated by the image of a nuclear explosion. Johnson's commercial lightly tweaked Auden's most cherished line, "We must love one another or die."
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