Sept. 1, 2014:
A sticky morning that reminds me more of July than September. Very quiet, as people sleep in for the holiday, storing up energy for the frantic fall of school, work, life in general. Some early leaf-fall. Gardens looking dry, and ugly weeds proliferate. Hordes of squirrels scurrying around for acorns. Automatic sprinkler systems watering the sidewalks.
It seems very American to celebrate Labor Day as part of a summer weekend rather than as a statement of working-class solidarity, as with May Day (May 1) in the rest of the world. But America is indeed increasingly a class-divided society.
I thought about the outbreak of World War II and, as many people do, of this poem by W.H. Auden.
September 1, 1939
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.
And some people, especially of a certain age, may remember the haunting old man's song, by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson, "September Song,'' whose lyrics include:
"Oh, it's a long, long while from May to December "But the days grow short when you reach September "When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame "One hasn't got time for the waiting game''
"September Song'' was written in 1938. Many sad songs were written in the late '30s, as the world, long in the Great Depression, moved toward another gigantic war. One was "Thanks for the Memory,'' which is funny and melancholic at the same time. It became Bob Hope's theme song.
The lyrics include:
"We said goodbye with a highball Then I got as 'high' as a steeple But we were intelligent people No tears, no fuss, Hooray! For us''
-- Robert Whitcomb
“There is no man, however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived a life, the memory of which is unpleasant to him that he would gladly expunge it. And yet he ought not entirely regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man–so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise–unless he has passed through all the fatuous or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded….We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness wich no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world. ''
-- Marcel Proust