Refugee Blues Poem Presentation Jack

Refugee Blues
Written by W H Auden
Jack and Max
Learning Objectives
• To understand the
meaning conveyed.
• To demonstrate
knowledge of the
structure of the poem
• To determine how the use
of language has affected
the imagery.
Background knowledge on the author
 Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29
September 1973), who published as W. H.
Auden, was an Anglo-American poet, born in
England, who later became an American
 The central themes of his poetry are love, politics
and citizenship, religion and morals, and the
relationship between unique human beings and
the anonymous, impersonal world of nature.
 His poems from the 1940s explored religious and
ethical themes in a less dramatic manner than in
his earlier works, and combined traditional forms
and styles with new, original forms.
About the Poem
 “Refugee Blues" was written in 1939, and it was one of a number of poems Auden wrote in
the mid-to late-1930s in blues and other popular metres. The poem dramatizes 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.
 It also refers to the conditions experienced by Jews at the time, at Hitler and their
hardships experienced in finding refuge at a country. As Hitler begun with his racial killing,
it was easy for people to become refugees, but when war struck, countries became more
hesitant to allow them in. This is the time period the poem is set in.
What do you think the title
“Refugee Blues” means?
The Poem
 Say this city has ten million souls,
 Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
 Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.
 Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
 Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
 We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.
 In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
 Every spring it blossoms anew:
 Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.
 The consul banged the table and said:
 “If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead”:
 But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.
 Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
 Asked me politely to return next year:
 But where shall we go to-day, my dear, where shall we go to-day?
 Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said:
 “If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”;
 He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.
 Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
 It was Hitler over Europe, saying: “They must die”;
 We were in his mind, my dear, we were in his mind.
Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
 But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.
 Went down to the harbour and stood upon the quay,
 Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
 Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.
 Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
 They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
 They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.
 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.
 Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
 Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
 Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.
Meaning of the Poem
Now that you guys know some background information on this poem, you must have some
ideas about what this poem was really about… and what Auden really was saying as he wrote
this poem to his lover Chester Kallman, a Jew. We’ll give you guys 2 mins to think about the
meaning of this poem…
 The Meaning of refugee blues, is, actually a love letter. Because he was worried about his lover
and lifelong companion Chester Kallman.
Structure of the Poem
 “Refugee Blues” is a ballad (love song) and has a sense of
musicality that is created by both its structure and the
repetition of certain phrases. The poem contains twelve
stanzas, each containing three lines each. The first and
second line of each stanza rhyme. The two rhyming lines of
each stanza tell the story, while the third line contains a
repeated phrase (like a chorus) that develops the theme of
the poem.
Structure of the Poem
 The poem also has a sense of musicality in its title. The
‘blues’ is a musical style that is today considered to be
a sub-genre of jazz, but that was born in the slave
communities of the American deep south. Blues hold
an emotional intensity within it and are very critical of
society, as seen throughout Refugee Blues. Blues
almost always shows struggle.
 Lets look back at the poem. What would the rhyming
structure be? What does the shape of the stanzas tell
you? What else can we tell by looking at the poem?
The Refugee
This poem closely
relates to this
Do you have any
ideas why?
What can you see in
this painting?
The painting is a reflection of
the artist’s fear and
desperation on the eve of
the Second World War. As
Germany’s threatening
shadow sweeps across
Europe, the artist is left with
no escape route. The
loneliness of the room
signifies his helplessness,
while the bleak view in the
distance reflects grim reality
– for the Jew, there is no
Artist is Felix Nussbaum
How Language Affects the Imagery
 What literary device does Auden employ in every stanza to convey
the reality of the world of refugees? How does it affect you?
 The tight structure of Auden’s poem is evident in the repeating form of the stanzas and in
the constant repetition in the third line of each stanza. We think that this repetition
enforces the sensation of impending doom, of an progression towards death.
 The poet moves from the world of humans to the realm of nature in
various stanzas, thereby creating distinct comparisons on the fate
of man versus the state of other creatures on earth. Take around a
minute or two to comment with your group on his juxtaposition of
imminent imprisonment and freedom.
 Auden uses the world of nature, in different verses, to contrast the
free life of dogs, cats, birds, an old yew plant in the churchyard and
fish, in comparison to that of restrictions placed on Jews.
 The poet uses some startling images in the poem. Look at the
following examples and comment on their effectiveness:
 blossoming passports
 officially dead
 fish swimming as if they were free
 a building with a thousand floors
Any Questions?
Now look at your papers for your
last activity

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