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.


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



47 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!

  6. Saiqa Riaz

    June 5, 2012 at 9:16 pm

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

  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! 😀

  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!

    • harvinder :)

      February 20, 2014 at 8:47 am

      its not good its 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!!!!!!!

  20. Ben

    December 5, 2013 at 12:58 am

    The idea that the country Auden dreams of is Palestine is ludicrous! He says ‘look in the atlas, and you’ll find it there’
    Palestine was not a country when this poem was written, and was not in the atlas. To say he was mentioning a country that does not exist yet is a little far fetched, and also shows a lack of accuracy.

    • har33m

      April 23, 2014 at 10:55 pm

      The poem was written in 1939. It’s a post second world war poem. Not only did Palestine exist in 1939, there was a revolt from 1936 to 1939 by the Arab-Palestinians, against the mass Jewish immigration.
      The idea is that because of Hitler’s policies and unjust persecution of Jews, they had to flee Germany and find shelter elsewhere. So they tried to go back to their own country, which was Palestine, (previously known as Jerusalem.) But the people who were living there, the Arabs, did not take kindly to the sudden arrival of so many immigrants and there was an uprising against allowing the Jews safety and refuge. Thus the Jews were turned away from their own country.
      Hope that clears up the misunderstanding.

      • Sarah

        June 16, 2016 at 6:50 pm

        Sorry, but it’s not a post second world war poem. World War II ended in 1945.

      • H. Rehman

        June 16, 2016 at 6:57 pm

        Yeah it did. And this poem was written in 1939. ALao the parts about Hitler and German Jews being driven out and persecuted by thousands of soldiers make it quite clear what time period the poem is based on don’t you think?
        What do you think it’s about if not WW2?

  21. anamikagopi

    February 16, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Such a brilliant analysis. Very very useful and detailed, and the language used is so good 🙂 Thanks a lot!

  22. harvinder :)

    February 20, 2014 at 8:47 am

    oh please make it short bc i wont be able to learn fullllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll

    • har33m

      April 23, 2014 at 10:37 pm

      Don’t learn it. You’ll never be able to do that and get away with it because no matter how exactly you can reproduce this in the exams, you have to relate the answer to the question, and that you can only do if you understand and appreciate a poem.

  23. Ruby

    March 12, 2014 at 10:25 pm

    Thank you loads. This is by far the best analysis I’ve read. Do you also analyse short stories. I need help with one by Katherine mansfield. (:

    • syed farhan ali

      June 11, 2014 at 9:08 am

      vry vry gud analys.

  24. jashandeep insan

    August 20, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    A revision for test

  25. kavyaa

    October 12, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    It is really useful in preparing for exams

  26. manjunath s

    October 15, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Thank u for the summary . but plz make it little bit short.

  27. Dharshika

    December 12, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Can you send me the out out by Robert frost note

  28. gopi

    March 30, 2015 at 1:28 pm

    significance of poem and critical analysis

  29. Gowtham

    April 22, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    Really very useful great job:)

  30. Roya

    June 10, 2015 at 12:14 am

    Hey, wow thank you! That is a very detailed yet short analysis. It was extremely helpful and you are talented. I wanted to know whether the word on the 3rd line from the bottom is ‘their’ and not ‘there’? i’m not so sure

  31. Philips

    June 13, 2015 at 5:39 pm

    It was really a good analysis that help me to understand the poem and do my assignment without any diffoculties.
    Thanks fot that

  32. ranjitha

    November 5, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    its good

  33. wideandawake

    November 6, 2015 at 10:53 am


  34. jannatun

    February 29, 2016 at 9:52 pm

    Pls can you write the analysis of explores or boys messing about either way taxt payer get rescue bill
    Your analysis help to understand the chapter

  35. Angie

    March 15, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Can you pleasee write the analysis of out-out by Robert Frost?/

  36. Matt

    April 26, 2016 at 5:13 pm

    That was very helpful in a document I had to work on in class about this very poem. Thank you for giving me some more professional insight on what this poem really meant!!!!

  37. mohammed rishin rafeeque

    May 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    can you make it simpler.. i mean to short up the sentences by including whole content so that we can understand it in a glimpse… and thank you for this poems analysis..

  38. Dharshika krishnakumar

    May 14, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    thank you. it is a great help.

  39. Mahishanth

    March 24, 2017 at 7:40 pm

    Sir I need a essay on how the writer sympathise the refugees in the refugees blue poem

    • H. Rehman

      March 24, 2017 at 7:50 pm

      Hello, that is quite an interesting topic for an essay. There’s a lot to write, first off the poet, WH Auden wrote the poem from the point of view of a refugee. And then he describes how the Jewish refugees were driven out of their own country under threat of genocide, and barred from other countries because they were seen as economic burdens. The point of the poem is to evoke pathos for the plight of these refugees so if you focus how Auden highlights different problems in each stanza, with their historical context, you’d probably get a decent grade. I dare say for a better grade you could draw comparisions between the Jewish refugees that Auden gives a voice to in the poem and the current refugee crisis going on in certain parts of the world.
      Hope this gives you some starting points, do come back for furter questions.
      Also it’s not sir. Just Hareem.


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