November 28, 2011
British Literature III
Close Reading 3
September 1, 1939: W.H Auden’s Call to Anarchy
The title of W.H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939,” may lead some to believe that the poem is meant as a criticism of Nazi Germany’s decision to invade Poland. It is easy to assume that “September 1, 1939” is making reference to this historic event; however, the invasion of Poland also marked a major turning point in the war. The poem’s footnotes indicate that it was just two days after the Nazi’s invaded Poland that Britain and France declared war on Germany. The invasion of Poland is not described in any detail, so it is likely that Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939” focuses on the change of attitude that this invasion may have brought about for British citizens. The obvious interpretation of “September 1, 1939” is that it is a hopeful poem. In dark times, Auden surmises, one must be a source of light. This message is meant to inspire the British people. Auden is asking them to stand up against the oppressive forces at work in the world at this time. This is an admirable message; however, it is also possible that the poem is meant to inspire a more covert action: perhaps “September 1, 1939” is a call to the people of Britain to rise up against organized authority. This poem could be interpreted as a gesture toward anarchy. The eighth stanza of the poem is one of the most important stanzas of the text. The eighth stanza showcases an important concept: resistance against authority begins at the individual level, and that the actions of one individual could cause many more to follow. If resistance is to make any sort of change in society, then individuals must stand up against institutions of governmental power. This paper will argue that W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” seems to have a positive, empowering message of hope, however, this message could also be interpreted as a call for the British people to act in...
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