Refugee Blues Analysis

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“Refugee Blues” by WH Auden, is a ballad and, as such, has a sense of musicality that is created by both its structure and the repetition of certain phrases. The poem contains twelve stanzas of 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. For example, the first stanza ends: “yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.”

The poem’s sense of musicality is also evident 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 songs tell a melancholic story using regular chants or refrains. Blues hold an emotional intensity within it and are very critical of society, as seen throughout Refugee Blues. This song, which was written in 1938 shortly before the outbreak of World War II, is about a pair of refugees who have fled Germany to escape Nazism and Adolf Hitler’s twisted master plan to ‘safeguard’ the purity of the Aryan race. The refugees, however, have nowhere to escape to.

Refugee Blues is narrated by one of the pair of refugees, who is bemoaning their fate to the other. The repeated use of “my dear” suggests that the couple are married, but doesn’t give a clue as to whether it is the husband or wife speaking. In the first two stanzas, the refugee sets the context for the poem. The first stanza notes that the city they have fled to is full of people, both rich and poor, yet there is no space for them. With the use of word such as “souls” it suggest something valuable or holy about each and every one of the people within the city, it also implies that they are all the same. This idea of “souls being the same” is juxtaposed with the line “some are living in mansions, some are living in holes: Yet there’s no place for us” this suggests that the...
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