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20 Years After 9/11, W.H. Auden's Poem 'September 1, 1939' Still Resonates


In the hours after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, as the smoke of destruction still lingered in the very air we breathed, I was reminded of W. H. Auden's poem "September 1, 1939" and read from it on the air. Auden's poem still resonates.

(Reading) I sit in one of the dives on 52nd 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 odor of death offends the September night.

(Reading) 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.

(Reading) 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.

(Reading) 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.

(Reading) 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? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.