Jay Parini at Literary Review:
Few political poems strike emotional pay dirt with such consistency and effect as ‘September 1, 1939’. In the sprung rhythm of his three-beat line, with each of his eleven-line stanzas containing one sentence, the language leaps at our hearts and minds. Auden’s infamous cleverness and his wide allusiveness continue after many readings to startle in satisfying ways, even when we don’t recall exactly ‘what occurred at Linz’ or really know ‘What huge imago made/A psychopathic god’. What follows, of course, from these puzzling lines is the poem’s most clarifying moment: ‘I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn,/Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return.’
I had the good fortune to meet Auden at Oxford in 1972, a year before his death, when he had effectively come home to Christ Church to die. He was, at this time, a kindly and yet deeply witty and acerbic man who seemed to be in search of his dotage and failing badly to discover it.