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Reactions: Poetry in article on Afghan chemists

September 16, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 33


Letters to the editor

Portents of ‘afraid and uncertain’ article

I had left the July 25, 2022, issue of C&EN with the article “Afraid and Uncertain” (page 24) open on my desk, thinking I should read it again, moved by the fates of Afghan scientists after the Taliban takeover a year ago. Yesterday the title “Afraid and Uncertain” caught my eye again. There was a ring in these words, and I remembered I had read them before. What I remembered was the line “Uncertain and afraid” from the poem “September 1, 1939” by W. H. Auden. I wonder whether C&EN writer Andrea Widener was aware of Auden’s poem and was quoting his words as a hidden reference, or was it just plain chance? Be it as it may, here are the first lines from Auden’s poem:

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade.

If you find these lines intriguing, go find the entire poem. Better yet, try to find Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky’s interpretation of Auden’s poem. Today, as I am writing this, is Sept. 1, 2022, 83 years after the beginning of World War II.

Claus Schneider
Old Hickory, Tennessee


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