Europe and America 1939 … 2020 … In Memory of Ernst Toller (d. May 1939) by W H Auden.
The shining neutral summer has no voice To judge America, or ask how a man dies; And the friends who are sad and the enemies who rejoice Are chased by their shadows lightly away from the grave Of one who was egotistical and brave, Lest they should learn without suffering how to forgive. What was it, Ernst, that your shadow unwittingly said? O did the child see something horrid in the woodshed Long ago? Or had the Europe which took refuge in your head Already been too injured to get well? O for how long, like the swallows in that other cell, Had the bright little longings been flying in to tell About the big friendly death outside, Where people do not occupy or hide; No towns like Munich; no need to write? Dear Ernst, lie shadowless at last among The other war-horses who existed till they’d done Something that was an example to the young. We are lived by powers we pretend to understand: They arrange our loves; it is they who direct at the end The enemy bullet, the sickness, or even our hand. It is their tomorrow hangs over the earth of the living And all that we wish for our friends; but existing is believing We know for whom we mourn and who is grieving.
Toller, a distinguished writer, was involved in the 1919 Bavarian Soviet Republic. Short-lived, the republic and was defeated by righ-twing forces. He was imprisoned for his part in the revolution. Toller was detained and tortured, but was later able to exile himself to London. Suffering from deep depression (his sister and brother had also been arrested and sent to concentration camps) and financial troubles, having given all his money to Spanish civil war refugees), he hung himself in his hotel room at the Mayflower Hotel in New York on 22 May 1939. W. H. Auden's poem "In Memory of Ernst Toller" was published 1940.