Thursday, September 1, 2011

September 1, 1939

"September 1, 1939" is a poem by W. H. Auden written on the occasion of the outbreak of World War II. It was first published in The New Republic issue of October 18, 1939, and was first published in book form in Auden's collection Another Time (1940).

The poem deliberately echoes the stanza form of W. B. Yeats's "Easter, 1916", another poem about an important historical event; like Yeats' poem, Auden's moves from a description of historical failures and frustrations to a possible transformation in the present or future.

Soon after writing the poem, Auden began to turn away from it, apparently because he found it flattering to himself and to his readers. When he reprinted the poem in The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (1945) he omitted the famous stanza that ends "We must love one another or die." In 1957, he wrote to the critic Laurence Lerner, "Between you and me, I loathe that poem". He resolved to omit it from his further collections.

In the mid-1950s Auden began to refuse permission to editors who asked to reprint the poem in anthologies. In 1955, he allowed Oscar Williams to include it complete in The New Pocket Anthology of American Verse with the most famous line altered to read "We must love one another and die." Later he allowed the poem to be reprinted only once, in a Penguin Books anthology Poetry of the Thirties (1964), with a note saying about this and four other early poems, "Mr. W. H. Auden considers these five poems to be trash which he is ashamed to have written."

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