Auden on September 1, 1939

September 17th, 2010  |  Published in poesy

WH Auden's well-known poem September 1, 1939 has the lines

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.

Auden, in the foreward to the first edition of B.C. Bloomfield's W.H. Auden: A Bibliography, wrote:

Rereading a poem of mine, 1st September, 1939, after it had been published, I came to the line "We must love one another or die" and said to myself: "That's a damned lie! We must die anyway." So, in the next edition, I altered it to "We must love one another and die." This didn't seem to do either, so I cut the stanza. Still no good. The whole poem, I realized, was infected with an incurable dishonesty—and must be scrapped."

I like that.