Common-Place or “Locus Communis” — a place to remember
Anglo-American poet W. H. Auden wrote “September 1, 1939” at the outbreak of World War II in Europe. It’s a poem that’s often quoted during times of crises such as ours, and only seems to highlight the recurring cycles of political dissimulation and media exacerbated fury that escalates into tragedy. While battling a virus, we’ve “cancelled” each other and branded each other racists and bigots. We’ve listened to politicians and oligopolies wildly denounce opponents of their agendas as terrorists. We’ve been witness to unchecked brutality this past year as our cities burned with mob violence during which thirty people were murdered, and neighborhoods and livelihoods went up in smoke while governors and mayors watched.
Auden began the poem with these words:
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
In the penultimate stanza he cautions: “We must love one another or die.” The same holds true today.
Read the complete poem at poets.org. And hear the poet Dylan Thomas read it below.
2 thoughts on “A Common-Place Jotting: “A low dishonest decade””
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
What a marvellous conclusion.
I agree. So well composed, in form and thought, with the perfect note to end on.