Auden and Christianity

Auden and Christianity
by Arthur Kirsch

W.H. Auden’s currency as a popular poet returned briefly after September 11, 2001, when “September 1939” found its way into many commentaries on the events of that day (including Commonweal’s). In that poem, Auden, having recently emigrated from England to the United States, looked back at “the low dishonest decade” then coming to an end in Europe, and with foreboding summoned up the Fascist horror to come. New York City-specifically a dive on 52nd Street-was his setting, and in his poetic voice he expressed a mood that sixty-two years later echoed in many New Yorkers, “Beleaguered by the same/Negation and despair.” (To which Auden could offer only one hopeful admonition: “We must love one another or die.”)

Some may recall that Auden was classed among the radical, left-wing British poets of the 1930s. “McSpaundy” was the collective title applied to him, Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, and C. Day Lewis, known as socialist-virtually Communist-protesters against Depression-era economic woes and the rise of fascism. In his 1937 poem “Spain,” Auden even called for “necessary murder” in pursuit of social justice. Yet within a year of writing “September 1939” he had reaffirmed his Anglo-Catholic faith, and with a change in continents remade himself, or as Arthur Kirsch persuasively argues, asserted what he in truth had always been: a profoundly Christian poet.

A veteran scholar deeply familiar with Auden’s...

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About the Author

Edward T. Wheeler, a frequent contributor, is the former dean of the faculty at the Williams School in New London, Connecticut.