W H Auden's journal entry for 1 September 1939


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

Full catalogue details

Related articles

London during the Blitz: a landscape of fear and shadows

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.

'Musée des Beaux Arts', 'Their Lonely Betters' and 'The Shield of Achilles'

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.

Culture in Weimar Germany: on the edge of the volcano

Article by:
Andrew Dickson
Art, music and popular culture, European influence

Andrew Dickson explores the vibrant, experimental and precarious culture that developed in Weimar Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, where figures such as Paul Klee, Kurt Weill and Christopher Isherwood were making art, music and literature.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works


Created by: W H Auden

In the words of John Fuller, this poem – one of W H Auden’s most highly regarded love lyrics – ...

'Musee des Beaux Arts'

Created by: W H Auden

W H Auden was in Brussels in 1938. As he explains in a letter of 31 August to his friend Mrs Dodds – wife of ...

'Their Lonely Betters'

Created by: W H Auden

‘Their Lonely Betters’ is a short, four-stanza lyric poem by W H Auden. It was probably written in 1950, ...

'Stop all the clocks'

Created by: W H Auden

‘Stop all the clocks’ originates from a two-act play W H Auden wrote with the novelist Christopher ...