Refugee Blues by W.H.Auden (from 'Another Time', 1940)
This poem deals with the victims of Nazi persecution; a German Jew is speaking to a companion about their pitiful condition. They are homeless and they cannot leave their country where they are considered intruders, because they have no passport. Bureaucracy prevents them from getting their documents, more than that, even though they are still alive in body, bureaucracy states they no longer exist.
Other people stand aside and see what's happening but don't act, or worse, act to condemn them without understanding.
Cats and dogs are loved better than the refugees; their owners care for them but show hostility towards the Jewish (see lines 22-25).
In the poem there are some contrasting images which are meant to emphasize the message. In line 2, the contrast between 'mansions' and 'holes' refers to the gap between the rich and the poor; in lines 11 and 12, the refugees are considered dead by the government of their country but they are alive in body; from line 22 to 25, as mentioned above, the contrast is between the way pets are treated and the hostility their owners show towards the refugees; from line 25 to 30 animals are said to be freer than human beings because they 'have no politicians'.
In the poem there are a lot of images belonging to everyday life as the 'atlas', l.5, 'a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin', l. 22, a cat, l. 23, 'the harbour' l. 25, 'the fish' l. 26, 'the birds' l.27, 'windows' and 'doors' line 32.
Then, there are a few poetic images as 'an old yew' l. 7, 'the thunder rumbling in the sky' l. 19 and 'great plain in the falling snow' l, 34.
It is typical of Auden to mix up different registers and different styles. Here he uses a device which is common of colloquial speech, i.e., the lack of subject in the first line of each stanza. The stanza form is regular, the whole poem is written in tercets; the rhyme scheme is AAB and regular as well. Repetition is widely used at line level and stanza level. There is the presence of a refrain, 'my dear' which is repeated in the third line of each stanza. Repetitions and the presence of a refrain are meant to give rhythm, make the emotional impact on the readers stronger and remind us of a song as the title itself suggests.
The poet's message is about some relevant social issues as social injustice, lack of solidarity, isolation and homelessness.