“an affirming flame”

I’d like to share this poem by W.H. Auden. Please follow the link below to read it in full:

September 1, 1939

W.H. Auden wrote the poem “September 1, 1939” in the early days of WWII, specifically, after the Nazi’s invaded Poland. In this poem, he mourns the failure of humans to learn from the destruction and death of the past:

I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn,/Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return.

And he speaks of the folly of human nature:

Of each woman and each man/Craves what it cannot have,/Not universal love/But to be loved alone.

But he say’s “no one exists alone.” We are indelibly linked to one another. We are all connected.

We must love one another or die.

That line that has been quoted so often; and it’s a line that Auden chose to omit from later publications of the poem. In later years, he confessed that he loathed this poem, and perhaps that line in particular since he chose to remove it. Why? Because human are incapable of grasping the deep dark meaning of it? Because people have clung to that line and abused it and corrupted it’s essence?

This poem has resurfaced on the internet these last few days, and I wonder what lies ahead for us in our own time. There is so much violence and destruction taking place both at the hands of militant human beings and as an indirect result of our neglect and disregard the planet (Oct 2015 is the world’s warmest month on record.)

Are we doomed to act out of fear and anger, or can we face the challenges of climate change and war with courage? Can we find new ways to protect ourselves and others? Can we be more strategic about this? Can we ‘work smarter’ for a better world instead of throwing bodies at the problem?

Auden ends with this prayer-like stanza:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Who will be the ‘Just’ in our own time? Who will continue to create these ‘points of light’ in our time of despair? Will it be you – me – us? And to lighten the mood a bit, didn’t Dumbledore say something along the lines of: ‘sometimes we have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy’?

We can try. We must try. 




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