This is a book about a poet, about a poem, about a city, and about a world at a point of change. More than a work of literary criticism or literary biography, it is a record of why and how we create and respond to great poetry.
This is a book about a poet – W. H. Auden, a wunderkind, a victim-beneficiary of a literary cult of personality who became a scapegoat and a poet-expatriate largely excluded from British literary history because he left.
About a poem – ‘September 1, 1939’, his most famous and celebrated, yet one which he tried to rewrite and disown and which has enjoyed – or been condemned – to a tragic and unexpected afterlife.
About a city – New York, an island, an emblem of the Future, magnificent, provisional, seamy, and in 1939 about to emerge as the defining twentieth-century cosmopolis, the capital of the world.
And about a world at a point of change – about 1939, and about our own Age of Anxiety, about the aftermath of September 11, when many American newspapers reprinted Auden’s poem in its entirety on their editorial pages.