Poetry Analysis: Refugee Blues-W. H. Auden.

17 Jan

The following analysis has been done in answer to a request sent by Amanthi. I hope you find it satisfactory and that this helps with preparing for your exams.

Auden’s ‘Refugee Blues’ laments the plight of the Jews who were forced to flee Europe when the Holocaust started and they were rounded up and killed or imprisoned under the cruel regime of Hitler.
The poem starts with a narrator, who is later revealed to be a German Jew, describing a large city which is home to ten million people some of whom are well off and live in luxurious large houses while others make do in slums and shabby houses. Yet, the narrator tells the person with him, presumably a woman, that there is no place for them there. He remembers that they once had a country long ago, speaking of Palestine, and they thought the world of it. But now their own country is so distant to them that to see it they have to browse through an atlas and he knows that they can’t go there either.
The narrator then remarks on how every spring the flowers grow anew on the old tree that grows in the village churchyard, and mourns to his companion that old passports can’t renew themselves, remembering how the country where they wanted to go had rejected them saying that they were as good as dead if they didn’t have updated passports. It seems that it is their misfortune that they are still among the living, considering his dejected tone as he addresses his companion. He remembers how when he had gone to the people who had been made responsible for providing the war refugees homes, they had been polite to him, yet hadn’t been able to help him, having their hands tied because of the politics and had told him to return next year. Recalling a public meeting that he had attended, he remembers that a person had accused them of trying to steal away the livelihood of the occupants of the city by barging in, and informs his companion that that man had been talking of them.
He thinks that he heard the rumbling of an imminent storm, but it turned out to be Hitler sentencing them all to death. He sees a dog securely wrapped in a warm jacket, and a cat get inside a car, the door of which had been held open for it and thinks that they are lucky that they aren’t German Jews. He notices the fish swimming freely in the water at the harbor and the birds flying wherever they want in the skies when he goes to the woods and marvels at them not having any politicians and wars as they were not human beings.
He then tells his companion that he had had a dream in which he saw a magnificent building which could accommodate a thousand people yet there was no place for them in it anywhere. He remembers how when he stood on the plains and looked through the falling snow, he could see a thousand soldiers marching towards them, looking for them, to put them away, to kill them.

The language used in the poem is as simple as the message behind it is complex. Auden uses the refrain at the end of each stanza, customary for a blues song, each a dejected realization in its own by the narrator of his and every other refugee sorry plight. Hitler’s command for all Jews to be killed is personified as the rumbling of thunder which can be heard just before lightning strikes and the world descends into the chaos of a political storm. Simple analogies have been used such as that of the birds and fish flying and swimming freely and pets being treated better than the Jews have been used to convey the low position these rejected people, in terms that they understand.

Conveying the utter lost and pathetic state of the German Jewish refugees who had been forced to leave their homes and find sanctuary in other countries. For a few years these people had been welcomed into other countries and given meager yet sustainable jobs and accommodations. But then as war threatened to break out and Hitler’s word became law in Germany, these people were no longer allowed entry into other countries, and were persecuted in their own. They were called sub-humans, a term which Auden explores by making the narrator realize that the animals he sees are treated better than them because they aren’t German Jews. The sense of being hunted, of being sought out, persecuted is apparent throughout the poem, as one by one all the doors to a better future are shut on the narrator’s face and it reaches its climax in the last stanza when the narrator witnesses the thousands of people who are raging war against his people, imprisoning them and killing them. The inhumanity with which Jews were treated during those times and the Holocaust and its terrible tales which few lived to tell are already well known today, but this poem highlights what these people must have felt, when they had no place to call home, nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

It is a chilling and depressing poem which reminds one of the extents to which humanity can fall, becoming beasts, thirsty for each other’s blood and lives. Many poets have tried to capture the anguish and cruelty of war, some have succeeded, but only a handful have mastered it to the extent that there words are forever reminders to mankind; reminders which, with the increasing religious intolerance and biased prejudices have become all the more important in today’s world.

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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Analysis of Poems.



20 responses to “Poetry Analysis: Refugee Blues-W. H. Auden.

  1. Smiles

    January 17, 2012 at 8:12 am

    Thanks!! :)

  2. biżuteria

    January 20, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    I like this post very much.

  3. Tammy

    February 2, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Would you please write an analysis for IF by Rudyard Kipling?
    Ur analyses really help me understand the poems.. Thanks

  4. Winnie

    May 3, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    oh my this is reli fantastic.
    my ideas about this poem are much clearer now and thanks a ton :)
    GOOD ANALYSIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Iris

    June 5, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Yet another amazing analysis! :D

  6. Saiqa Riaz

    June 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm

    Hareem,Thank You soooooooo Much!! :D I have an Exam 2mrw and all your Analysis have helped me soooooooo much :D :D

  7. Grant1212

    September 24, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks this really is a great quality analysis.

  8. Jilly

    October 7, 2012 at 8:37 am

    Wow this really helped me! Thanks! :D

  9. Ted Slowik

    November 16, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Here’s a video of this poem set to original music.


    Ted Slowik

  10. Ted Slowik

    November 16, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    Whoops, wrong link. Here’s the correct one:

  11. yasith

    November 21, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    it was really a good analysis….it helped me a lot to understand the poem!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    continue analyzing poems
    good luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  12. Hiyam

    December 3, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    And can you please analyse out, out- by Robert Frost?

  13. TaySwiftlove_UK

    February 2, 2013 at 7:06 pm

    Thank you so much! What a great analysis! This is really helping me with the essay I have to write on this!

  14. Yolanda

    May 3, 2013 at 12:13 am

    This is cool…really helpful…Thank u so much! :)

  15. janki

    May 8, 2013 at 10:30 am

    very good!

  16. Nonkululeko

    June 20, 2013 at 2:37 pm

    Thank you very I have grasped the whole concept without question or doubt


  17. Umar Faruk

    July 23, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    hey thanks for your analysis, it really helped. I’ll need analysis of certain poems; lost friends by Lenrie Peters, nile fishermen by Rex Warner, a polished performance by D. J. Enright, and Hyena. Thnks

  18. falak javed

    August 18, 2013 at 5:58 am

    wowwww what a touching heart poem

  19. aadil

    September 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    helped me in my English assignment thanks!!!!!!!


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