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Refugee Blues by W.H. Auden

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Joanne Wallace

on 4 November 2014

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Transcript of Refugee Blues by W.H. Auden

Refugee Blues
"Refugee Blues" is a poem by W. H. Auden, written in 1939, one of a number of poems Auden wrote in the mid- to late-1930s in blues style.
The poem dramatises the condition of Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany in the years before World War II, especially the indifference and antagonism they faced when seeking asylum in the democracies of the period
'Refugee': a person who flees to another country to escape being persecuted for their religion or politics, or to escape war.

'Blues': a slow, sad song, traditionally with 3-line stanzas with 4 beats to each line. The Blues were first sung by African Americans working on slave plantations in the southern states of the USA; these melancholy ballads expressed the unhappiness of the slaves' lives. Later, Blues became part of the development of popular song and jazz. WH Auden's poem uses many of the characteristics of a blues lyric.

WH Auden (1907-1973) was a poet born in England and grew up in Birmingham, studying English Literature at Oxford University. In 1939 he moved to the United States, where he became an American citizen in 1946.
Identifying Contrasts in the Poem
Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Think about:
What the poet is describing in the 1st part of your quote
What the poet is describing in the 2nd part
Whether there is a difference in the writer's tone
How each part makes you, as a reader, feel
How this poem links to the theme of entrapment

Point of comparison
Anne Frank
The Frank family moved from Germany to Amsterdam in 1933, the year the Nazis gained control over Germany. By May 1940, they were trapped in Amsterdam by the German occupation of the Netherlands. As persecutions of the Jewish population increased in July 1942, the family went into hiding in some concealed rooms in the building where Anne's father worked. After two years, the group was betrayed and transported to concentration camps. Anne Frank and her sister, Margot Frank, were eventually transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where they died of typhus in March 1945.
July 15th 1944:
“It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realise them.”
What is a Refugee?
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.
In summary
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 realisation by the narrator of his and every other refugee's 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.
Pronouns (I, we, us) help the reader to empathise and feel part of the text
Past/present tense?
Date - Chronological order
Personal feelings and emotions - linked to the senses
Full transcript