W.H. Auden’s September 1, 1939 appears at first to be a poem preoccupied with war; its title, being a significant date of the Polish-Nazi invasion in World War II, is a preliminary indication of a war-time theme. On the surface, the poem appears to comment on the dishonesty and manipulation of government leading to war and expresses Auden’s political opinions about WWII and his skepticism of governmental authority. The ideas Auden presents of the ‘Collective Man’ and ‘the lie of Authority’ suggests that concerning the war, he believes that the people of the world should be more truthful to one another, and that governments are to blame for the deceptions and wars in the world. The actions of governments at the time and their use of wartime propaganda to manipulate the public’s perception could be a mirrored image of the way Auden believes he has been made to be judged by society. Richard R Bozorth claims that “Auden’s poems had private meanings[…]To read with this knowledge is to see that what is true of all writing is acutely so for lesbian and gay writers – that meaning is initiated and elaborated in social settings where truth is very much a matter of what is speakable.” When considering the homosexual nature of Auden’s social life, a new layer can be found within the poem.
From the outset of the poem there is a theme of isolation; the speaker sits in ‘one of the dives/ On Fifty-Second Street’, suggesting a certain seclusion and loneliness. America was an impartial country in the Second World War and is described in the poem as the ‘neutral air’, reflecting its political neutrality during the war. The lonely bar Auden resides in suggests that like the country that inhabits him, Auden feels he is too separated and alienated within society, which may be due to his conflicting sexuality. The primary interpretation of Auden’s perception of WWII allows him to express his feelings towards the intolerance of homosexuality in society as it...
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