Friday, November 18, 2016

"September 1, 1939" Poem of the Week in response to American Elections

NO, W.H. Auden (1907-1973) did not famously ask if poetry could make anything happen, rather he bluntly stated, in his elegy for W.B. Yeats that "Poetry makes nothing happen." But since then, everyone else has been asking that question. Can poetry change anything?  In an interview with Richard Crossman just a few months before he died, Auden said: "Nothing I wrote prevented one Jew from being gassed or stalled the war for five seconds." Yet, in the midst of the fray of the 1930s, no one recorded it better than Auden, with important poems concerning the rise of fascism, the Spanish Civil War, and the beginning of World War II.  

The text of the poem, published in Another Time (1940) is still under copyright, and can be found on

Dylan Thomas reads the poem.

The Johnson presidential campaign famously used two lines from the poem in a 1964 advertisement 

If you want to learn more about Auden, why not follow Langdon Hammer's class?

As time went on, Auden felt his poem included too much moralizing, and chose not to include it in later collections of his poems, but his readers were too attached to the text to allow it to be forgotten.

Poetry may not stop wars, but it is an essential component of the human spirit, and may actually help people to cope and retain their sanity in trying times.