Yesterday's post was originally intended to be just the preamble to this poem, but in the end turned out longer than I expected. I was looking for a suitable poem for dark times, and what came to mind was W. H. Auden's September 1, 1939. It's another poem I first encountered in the Sixth Form in one of our A-level set texts: Poetry of the Thirties, edited by Robin Skelton.

The poet is sitting in a New York bar on the day of the outbreak of the Second World War, surely one of the darkest times imaginable. Several of the references need thinking about and explaining, or at least 'discussing'. 'What occurred at Linz' was that Linz was the birthplace of Adolf Hitler, and a city which he planned to turn into one of the great cities of the Third Reich. Is it fair to Luther to include his teaching as part of the 'offence' which led to the madness of the German people and the rise of Nazism? Certainly it has been argued that the Two Kingdoms doctrine in European Protestantism was a factor. But yes: Discuss.

Not so many people today, perhaps, are familiar with Thucydides and Pericles' speech about democracy that he records in the History of the Peloponnesian War. It's been on my 'Books To Read' list for so long that I gave my old (un-read) copy away in 2016 in the Great Cull of Books. As for mad Nijinsky and Diaghilev, you can Google that for yourself if you really want to.

What I love is the hope for dark times that Auden brings out in the final stanza. In dark times it can feel as if the whole world is benighted, lying in stupor and despair. But everywhere there are flashes of light where the Just exchange their messages. The poet aspires to show an affirming flame, to be one of the message-exchanging Just.

So may we all aspire.


Here's another poem I first read in the Sixth Form. It was in the collection Poetry of the Thirties, edited by Robin Skelton, which was our set text for English Literature A-level.

There's something about the gleeful malice of Betjeman's prayer, or curse, whichever it is, that you can't help loving. He was fascinated by suburbia even while he snobbishly despised it. Yet he also feels a sympathy for the 'bald young clerks' who are forced to toil for the 'repulsive' 'stinking cad' who is portrayed as a rapacious, lecherous, sexist capitalist.

Slough probably doesn't deserve this. I expect it's a decent enough place to live. It can't help sounding like one of the more depressing places described in John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, can it?