September 1, 1939

September 1, 1939

Parker J. Palmer

W.H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939” was written in response to Germany’s invasion of Poland and the start of World War II. I was six months old at the time, so I’ve been watching Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with the same horrific sense of deja vu so many of us feel.

Now in my 80s and weary of war, it’s tempting to say, “This is where I came in,” and leave the theatre so I don’t have to watch this film again. But no. I’m posting this poem this morning to remind myself that Auden had it right:

  • All I have is a voice. But that voice gives me a particle of power that many do not have. I must use it or lose it, use it in support of the common good.
  • I must work with others to “undo the folded lie”—the lie that might makes right, that “efficient authoritarianism” is better than “messy democracy,” a lie that now flourishes in my own country.
  • “No one exists alone… We must love one another or die.” Those words have been true as long as our species has been on the face of the earth. Anyone who thinks otherwise is massively deluded.
  • We may be “defenceless under the night,” but we never lack for opportunities to “flash out wherever the just exchange their messages” and “show an affirming flame.” In every way we can, let us say no to the night and yes to whatever brings light.

[Art work by Normal Rockwell, plus (1) Hank WIllis Thomas and (2) Eric Gottesman whose “For Freedoms” project (3) is updating older works of art: (1) (2) (3)]

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