Those to whom evil is done…

March 19, 2006

“Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return.” are two oft quoted
lines from W.H. Auden’s poem titled September 1,1939. The poem was written in response to Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland. Undoubtedly it was a bleak and ominous event; one that changed everything – again.

Sixty two years later, after the attacks on  September 11,  the quote was resurrected by many in their struggle to understand what the hell was going on – again.  Those who cited Auden were often criticized as being “simple minded” and “illogical”: not all who are tortured become torturers. Not all bullies were treated unkindly.

The citations were also seen by some as excusing the abominable and audacious behavior of a maniac.

Poetry is not a science (as if science has all the answers). It is a non-linear endeavor. Auden’s full poem (ironically 9 stanzas by 11 lines each) is a stark, direct, visceral, and personal reaction to a dark event. That is the beauty of art. Each individual person has their own say – and there is no right or wrong about it.

Interestingly, the author came to reject this poem. Perhaps he fell into the “yes-no-wrong-right” thinking of his detractors.

To see the full poem and two related essays go to:

www.johnharle.com/philosophy/articles-philosophy/WHAuden.html

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