September 1, 1939, is one of the most important poetic works of W.H. Auden. The poem is written from the political perspective where the poet has directly addressed America and asked it to join the Second World War to save the world from the dictators like Hitler and Mussolini of Germany and Italy respectively. The poet has used an ironic tone for this purpose.
As for the title of the poem, a lot of you might be wondering, well this is a significant date as this is when Germany invaded and occupied Poland which led to the beginning of the Second World War.
Let me now continue with the September 1, 1939 poem summary. You will also get to read the September 1 1939 poem analysis if you keep going through this article.
Summary Of September 1 1939 Poem By W.H. Auden
The poet has shown the individual response to the possibility, or say, near certainty of a general doom through this poem. The poet begins the poem with a picturization of him sitting in a restaurant on fifty-second Street in New York. the poet says that he is uncertain and afraid while the clever hopes of a low dishonest decade (the decade of the 1930s) which is referred to as the decade of expression is coming to an end (it is 1939 as mentioned in the poem’s title).
As a sensitive individual, the poet gives his response to the major issue of war. With this, the poet also starts to describe the reasons that are responsible for the political developments at the time. This he does because as a poet, Auden has always been an analyst who diagnoses society using Marxian economics and Freudian psychology.
He analyses the rise of nationalism in Germany during Hitler’s rule. The poet traces the roots of german nationalism in the development of Western religion-philosophic thought from Martin Luther who was the father of the reformation, down to Descartes.
Next, the poet turns his eye to America, of which he is also a citizen as he has left his native England behind.
Since America was trying to maintain neutrality and remain outside the deception during the early years of the Second World War, Auden used his Freudian apparatus to diagnose the stance of America. He then comes out against the neutral stance and points out the tall buildings that are present on the shores of New York (the present United Nations building). Auden makes an ironic reference to American neutrality along with other nations and says that each of these nations takes recourse to competitive excuses so that they do not have to face the Imperialist threat.
Once Auden is done with chiding the nations and the society, he takes on the individuals who are also equally guilty along with the nations as they have been seeking escape from the tiger at their doorstep.
He says that the common man also indulges in self-deception so that he can evade the crying situation which he does by escaping to the everyday routine to get pleasure and trying to make himself believe that everything is normal around him.
Hens, Auden says the individual nations and the individual persons, both are no different from each other as they behave the same way whenever such a depressing situation comes. They are just like the children who are afraid of the night and withdraw into their individual cells.
Once done with representing the conduct of the nations and their citizens, Auden then heads to the warmongers who are basically the true villains of peace.
He again takes recourse to Freduan psychology and analyses the individual behavior at the time of a social tragedy. He analyses that an individual tends to remain aloof from social events for self-love, keeping universal love aside.
Although Audden is angry at the militant trash of the warlords, he realizes that the self-love of these individuals is far cruder than the militant trash of the warmongers.
Auden harshly criticizes the self-centered conduct of the states including the citizens. He also blames the lack of solidarity among the states as well as citizens saying that this is the sole reason that the war-lords go unchallenged. Auden is simply trying to give the message that we must all love one another or die as hunger allows no choice.
September 1 1939 Analysis
The poem is about Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland on this date. The news is spread all over and he is describing the situation. He blames the Treaty of Versailles for this.
The news of the attack is spread everywhere and there are waves of anger and fear among the people. But it is not just now, the destruction started way before.
He asks people to find out what happened in Linz (the birthplace of Hitler) when he was growing up. That made him psychologically unstable. He says everyone knew, even the school children studied when something evil happens to someone, they do the same later.
He talks about Thucydides, a character from old myths. He was exiled from Amens. He wrote a whole book on such dictators, about their speeches and their whole nature and how they affect the people. But no one understands.
People are now habitual of having pain and suffering. They do not want to use their brain.
He says how Americans are neutral to the news. They might be scared inside but outside they are showing nothing. They are doing their regular work and are keeping a distance from reality.
The news has reached different countries and everyone is providing great excuses for their position (participating in war or not). They are as if enclosed in the mirror but when they will step out of the mirror, they will see the reality of imperialism.
They are like children fighting with each other lost in haunted wood, who was never happy, nor did they do any good to the others.
People like Hitler speak trash but for his listeners, he is like God, never wrong. the truth, however, comes out later.
What made Nijinsky write of Diaghilev was true for all the people. Diaghilev left Nijinsky when he was mentally ill. He wrote about Diaghilev that who is only a self-lover. All the people today are the same.
These dictators have conservative thinking. They go to people and speak and promise highly. Even such people are helpless to resume the same routine. The poet asks who will reach the deaf or the dumb.
All the poet has is his voice with which he wishes to expose these people’s lies. There is no such thing as a state, both citizens and powerful people must work together to survive.
There are people like the poet who can go out and stand against these dictators. Such people are like light in the darkness. They are the same people as everyone but no one can speak.
Well, I have covered W.H. Auden‘s September 1, 1939 summary for you along with September 1, 1939, critical analysis. You can also check out my other articles Nineteen Hundred And Nineteen Poem Summary By W.B.Yeats, Summary Of Journey To Iceland By W.H. Auden