September 1, 1939: W.H. Auden and the Afterlife of a Poem

September 1, 1939: W.H. Auden and the Afterlife of a Poem

Ian Sansom

This is a book about a poet, about a poem, about a city, and about a world at a point of change. More than a work of literary criticism or literary biography, it is a record of why and how we create and respond to great poetry.

This is a book about a poet – W. H. Auden, a wunderkind, a victim-beneficiary of a literary cult of personality who became a scapegoat and a poet-expatriate largely excluded from British literary history because he left.

About a poem – ‘September 1, 1939’, his most famous and celebrated, yet one which he tried to rewrite and disown and which has enjoyed – or been condemned – to a tragic and unexpected afterlife.

About a city – New York, an island, an emblem of the Future, magnificent, provisional, seamy, and in 1939 about to emerge as the defining twentieth-century cosmopolis, the capital of the world.

And about a world at a point of change – about 1939, and about our own Age of Anxiety, about the aftermath of September 11, when many American newspapers reprinted Auden’s poem in its entirety on their editorial pages.

Reviews of September 1, 1939: W.H. Auden and the Afterlife of a Poem

    • Praise for September 1, 1939:
    • ‘Sansom has given us a book in which all serious readers of Auden will find something to value. He has chosen exactly the right poem for our times to anchor his thoughts on this man who came to define a generation’ Literary Review
    • ‘Richly entertaining … explores what goes on in the poem and why it has had such an impact. Shandyesque and magpie-like, scholarly yet frolicsome, the book makes room for all manner of diverse material, to great effect’ Blake Morrison, Guardian
    • Praise for Paper:
    • ‘Engaging and dynamic’ Andrew Martin, Financial Times
    • ‘Wonderfully diverting…Splendidly dense with fact and thought’ Steven Poole, Times Literary Supplement
    • ‘Sansom’s scholarship is prodigious; his enthusiasm inexhaustible…He can make one laugh out loud by his placing of a single word’ Daily Telegraph
    • ‘A collection of ever so erudite, witty, chucklesome essays, rich with digressions and asides, on paper, in many of its guises, that seeks to refute – and does refute – the idea that we are moving towards a paperless world’ Bookmunch