I didn't intend to write about two inordinately talented gay-white-male poets in a row on this blog, but a situation beyond my control has forced my hand. For #WorldPoetryDay, Welsh actor Michael Sheen, who's known for his Shakespearean work on the stage, but perhaps more widely for his starring role in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, shared a resonant reading of W.H Auden's classic doomsday poem, "September 1, 1939."

I'm a bit of a Jehovah's Witness about invented holidays—it's #WorldPoetryDay everyday on Slog now, freaks—but I'll never fault anyone for turning their attention to poems for any reason whatsoever. However! I must point out that Sheen read the wrong version of Auden's poem, which ruins everything.

One quick thought:

• The poem's title references the day the Nazis invaded Poland, which sets the tone for the speaker to read humanity for filth. History's horrors will repeat themselves, all because of the species' inherent mortal fear and dictatorial impulses. Or, as Auden puts it: "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." We're only saved by our capacity to "undo the folded lie," and to connect with others who are motivated by justice. Thus his famous pronouncement in the penultimate stanza: "We must love one another or die."

• But! As Maria Konnikova tells us in The Atlantic, Auden "rewrote and then renounced ["September 1, 1939."], barring it from future anthologies and publications and distancing himself as much as possible from its creation." He hated the poem, and that famous line in particular, because it was "as false as it is falsely reassuring and self-congratulatory."

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• Which is correct! It's a bad line because it presents a false choice. We will all die, "and soon," as another stuffy British poet says. It doesn't matter if we love one another or not. But before he renounced the poem entirely, Auden made one of the greatest edits of all time by changing the line to, "We must love one another and die."

• Though he ultimately threw out that line, too, it does more accurately represent the challenge facing us all. We must love one another despite the fact that we will die. And though we do possess that strong, irrational, dictatorial impulse to invade Poland (or to gather in large groups during a fucking pandemic), the modern Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet reminds us of our equally strong capacity to allow life to flourish. In "On Living," Hikmet writes, "You must take living so seriously / that even at seventy, for example, you'll plant olive trees— / and not for your children, either, / but because although you fear death you don't believe it, / because living, I mean, weighs heavier."

• Anyhow, if you want to learn more about Auden, you could do worse than reading this gorgeous 1971 profile by Alan Levy in the New York Times.