At least that was the line until Auden decided he hated it and essentially tried to erase it – unsuccessfully – from the public’s mind.
Auden wrote the poem shortly after World War II started in Europe.
The next to last stanza describes the poet’s initial reaction to the war:
“There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.”
The poem and the “love one another” line became popular. Then the cantankerous poet decided he disliked them both – especially the “love” line.
In 1945, when a major collection of Auden’s was published, he insisted on cutting the entire stanza that ended with the “love one another” line. And, in the 1950s, he started refusing to let the poem be printed at all.
He did give special permission to include the poem in the 1955 edition of The New Pocket Anthology of American Verse. But he had the famous line changed, inserting “and” in place of “or,” so it read “We must love one another and die.”
He told a friend that the original line was “a damned lie! We must die anyway.” Nonetheless, it was his original line that remained famous. (Sorry, W.H.)
It was later infamously recycled in Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 TV attack ad against Barry Goldwater, the “Daisy ad.”
In that pioneering negative ad, a little girl’s enjoyable day picking daisies is disturbed by a countdown to a missile launch, then a nuclear bomb blast and mushroom cloud, then LBJ intoning “We must either love each other, or we must die.”
After which the announcer urges: “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.”
Auden didn’t like that, since he didn’t much like Lyndon Johnson or politicians in general. (Sorry again, W.H.)