September 1, 1939 by W.H. Auden: Summary

W.H. Auden wrote "September 1, 1939" in the eve of the 30s decade when Poland was attacked by Hitler as the beginning of the Second World War. It consists of nine stanzas of eleven lines each. The poet wrote this poem to bid adieu to the 1930s and to find out the real causes of the war. This poem is written in the first person directly addressing to the reader.

Wystan Hugh Auden

The poet is in the dive bar on 52nd Street thinking about the 1930s and its bad impression over the lives of the people. He smells the odor of the dead bodies and bombing in the night of September 1, 1939. The leaders of the future will explain the school children and the average people how the cultural problems, racial biases, and regional conflicts from the time of Martin Luther to the time of Hitler lead to the war. The innocent school kids will learn, ‘those to whom evil is done/ do evil in return.’

Thucydides, the Greek historian, knew beforehand about the so called democracy and the dictators who had their own logic in every argument, may cause pain and disaster for them and to the civilian too. The poet states that the same fate is being revised again in 1939. When the whole Europe is in the fire of war, America is demonstrating the power of collective Man to do the great things. America is busy in seeing the face of imperialism and the international wrong. The normal citizens are pretending to be happy and safe and keep on listening to the music and doing their daily chores, but at home they are in a haunted wood fearing death any time and can never be happy like a child who fears the darkness. In the next stanza, the poet asserts the fact that everyone wants to be loved alone, becomes selfish and wants to possess what he or she cannot have. The people from other communities who are rigid in their thought come front to lead another mass of people. At first they make big promises to improve their lives, but they become helpless, and at last without leaving any choice, they take a political step of devastating war.

Though the poet is helpless, he has his voice to expose the lie of the government and to unite people through his poetry. To the poet, there is no “State,” but the people are all interconnected and rely on each other. That is why, “We must love one another or die.” In the last stanza, the poet finds hope holding still up among the despair while the whole world is deep in the slumber. He finds hope from “the Just,” exchanging messages of affirmation.

Literary Spotlight

Analysis of September 1, 1939

Biography of W. H. Auden