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Between September 1 and 9/11; W.H. Auden, East Villager

audenWikiCommons The poet in 1939.

So let’s hear it for the greatest writer ever to live in the East Village. What’s that, you say? James Fenimore Cooper? Leon Trotsky? William S. Burroughs? Allen Ginsberg?

Hmm. No offense to the above authors, but surely you jest. The greatest writer ever to settle in the East Village, a transatlantic literary god whose appearance was as unexpected as that hawk showing up in Tompkins Square Park, was the English-born poet, W.H. Auden, who lived at 77 St. Marks Place from 1953 to 1972. In 1917, Trotsky had edited a dissident newspaper in the same building. The painter Larry Rivers was already living there when Auden and his lover, Chester Kallman, moved in. And the man who had previously occupied their railroad apartment was an abortionist. For neighborhood “color,” you can’t top that.

The coming month is a big one in Auden’s posthumous career. (He died in Vienna on September 29, 1973.) And this fortnight, in which we will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, will also be a 10th anniversary of sorts for him. Seventy-two years ago today, he began writing his aphoristic, agonized, and intensely lyrical meditation on the outbreak of World War II, “September 1, 1939.” It was composed shortly after he moved to New York with his pal Christopher Isherwood (“Berlin Stories,” “A Single Man”), and 62 years later, a few days after Mohammed Atta & co. brought down the Twin Towers, the poem took on a second life among the smart set on both sides of the Atlantic. Read more…