IS THERE A NARRATOR IN “SEPTEMBER 1, 1939”? Auden was comfortable using the voices of characters in his poetry. For example, THE SEA AND THE MIRROR consists of poems in the voices of the characters in The Tempest (with the qualification that Caliban speaks in prose). “September 1, 1939” represents the immediate reaction of one man—not necessarily Auden—to a tragic event. This article in Slate (September 20, 2011) by Eric McHenry describes how a large number of people felt that Auden’s poem reflected their immediate reactions to the September 11 bombings.
Auden was troubled that the poem did not reflect his later thinking. I wonder whether he was afraid that the line he objected to (â€œWe must love one another and dieâ€) might be quoted out of context in the same way that Robert Frost’s line “Good fences make good neighbors” is so often attributed to Frost rather than to a character in a Frost poem.