WHEN AUDEN DISAVOWED AN ENTIRE POEM. Auden changed his mind about an entire poem: “September 1, 1939”. Here is the authorized text of the poem. September 1, 1939 was the date that Nazi Germany invaded Poland, and is usually taken as the date that World War II began. The poem begins:

“I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:”

Auden soon came to hate the last line of the penultimate stanza, which was, as published, “”We must love one another or die.” This is despite the fact that the poem has been popular and much quoted, and, as Maria Konnikova wrote on the Atlantic website, “We must love or die” has been “perhaps the most quoted line of all”. Auden at first changed the line to: “We must love one another and die”. Eventually, Auden rejected the whole poem. This wikipedia entry quotes a letter in which Auden wrote: “”Between you and me, I loathe that poem”and adds that: “In the mid-1950s Auden began to refuse permission to editors who asked to reprint the poem in anthologies.” He also included the poem in a group of five poems about which he wrote: “”Mr. W. H. Auden considers these five poems to be trash which he is ashamed to have written.”

And yet, as Maria Konnikova points out, Auden told his literary executor only that: “I don’t want it reprinted during my lifetime.”

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