This is an extract from W H Auden’s journal for 1939. The diary, which contains entries written between August and November of that year, was written at a particularly crucial time in his life. Together with his friend Christopher Isherwood, he had left Britain for the United States in the winter of 1939. Their decision to move to America was criticised by some of their contemporaries, who claimed Auden and Isherwood were deserting their country as the threat of a new world war approached. Auden had also fallen in love with the American poet Chester Kallman, whom he had met in April of that year, and this contributed to his decision to stay in America. But despite the happiness he derived from his relationship with Kallman, the journal also shows his growing anxiety about Britain’s involvement in the war.
‘September 1, 1939’
The journal is an illuminating companion to one of Auden’s best-known poems, ‘September 1, 1939’, a poem written on, and named after, the day on which the Second World War began. In this poem, he famously describes the 1930s as ‘a low dishonest decade’. The journal entry corresponding to 1 September begins with the suggestion of a bad omen: ‘Woke with a headache after a night of bad dreams in which C [Chester Kallman] was unfaithful. Paper reports German attack to Poland’. In the afternoon of the same day, Benjamin Britten and his partner Peter Pears visited Auden. But despite the presence of his friends, in his notes there is a feeling of uneasiness at being in America while war developed in Europe: ‘Now I sit looking out over the river. Such a beautiful evening, and in an hour they say England will be at war’.
- Full title:
- W.H. Auden Journal
- August–November 1939, New York, US
- Manuscript / Diary
- W H Auden
- Usage terms
© Copyright by the Estate of W. H. Auden. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.
- Held by
- British Library
- Add MS 89035
- Article by:
- Greg Buzwell
- Power and conflict
During the Second World War, Nazi Germany conducted a sustained bombing campaign on cities and towns across Britain. The raids killed 43,000 civilians and lasted for eight months. Here Greg Buzwell examines how novelists have woven the effects of the Blitz into their work, from Graham Greene and Elizabeth Bowen in the 1940s to Sarah Waters in the 21st century.
- Article by:
- Valentine Cunningham
- Capturing and creating the modern, Literature 1900–1950
Auden loved all kinds of music, from opera and nursery rhymes to blues and Berlin cabaret. Here Valentine Cunningham explores Auden’s musical influences and considers how music helped to produce some of his most subversive work.
- Article by:
- John Sutherland
- Literature 1900–1950
John Sutherland describes the life of W H Auden and takes a look at three of his poems.
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