English

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.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife, I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.


This is Syed's reading of Auden's September 1, 1939. This was the first submission to kuch sunao, but it needed some technical modifications to amplify Syed's whispers. =), let me know if you have any issues with listening.

-- adnan.

September, like all the months of the year, marks the anniversary of too many tragedies. Of course the WTC attack in NYC immediately come to mind. But there is also the massacre of School Number One in Beslan (Sept. 1) and countless other events. Beslan and the towers, I think, are particularly relevant to Auden's poem.

We already find ourselves in the closing days of this strange/ugly/beautiful decade during this young century and far too much has changed and not enough has changed. Even 5 years after Beslan, there is still violent conflict in Ingushetia (http://bit.ly/2InctL). Even 8 years after men and women leapt from those collapsing towers, civilians and rescue workers (including those from out of the state), who leapt into the pile, with severe resulting health problems remain forgotten (http://bit.ly/2CiInj). Chechen concerns have hardly been addressed, Russia has stepped up its heavy-handed counter-terrorism, Afghanistan and Iraq continue to spiral out of control and the helpful stranger pays for his/her kindness. The lights went out and the music stopped.

I am unsure of why those two events, particularly Beslan, stand out. They have bled into my private life, haunted me, have broken past the internal filter which I think we all carry. I still remember the long bouts of insomnia after Beslan.

(Small note: some of the images below are disturbing, many are iconic and have undoubtedly been seen...just wanted to throw out a heads up)

Perhaps it is the imagery that followed the reports. Pictures, like those taken in Beslan, would have been iconic had they been taken in the 60s (http://bit.ly/xlmJG), 70s (http://bit.ly/JOZ06) or 80s (http://bit.ly/XtVcp). Now, they are commonplace, the accepted horrors that we've become increasingly inoculated against via the 24-hr news cycle. Turn on the BBC and Beslan's horror could just as well be in Israel or Palestine or even in the Ingushetia.

Auden was right. Truly the cultures have been driven mad in the age of Thucydide's 'Right'.

Auden, ever the cynic, hated this poem, particularly the lines: 'We must love one another or die' but there is an-oft-quoted-rarely-practiced truth in that statement.

(Interesting sidenote: a modified version of the line was used in a tactically briliant campaign advertisement for Johnson titled daisy - http://bit.ly/12dEKJ - though I'm not sure Auden would have approved of the increased military response that LBJ deployed in the Eastern theater...but I digress.)

Through the haze of skepticism, Auden's affirmation shines through: All he (and us) has is a voice...

http://bit.ly/AOtLI
('September 12th', Saul Williams, slightly NFSW and because every occasion is perfect by a Saul Williams piece)

Please forgive the ramblings above and the inadequate reading of Auden's beautiful work. May we be amongst the Just and the un-Silent.

Respect,

S/A