Disabled and Refugee Blues, written by Wilfred Owen and W.H. Auden respectively, are both responses to exile and isolation and a cry for those who are suffering from them. Disabled, written in 1917, was a response to the isolation caused by disability and especially that of war veterans. Auden’s, Refugee Blues, written in 1939 on the outbreak of the Second World War, was criticism of the widespread discrimination of Jews in Europe and more specifically German Jews by the Nazis. A key difference between the poems is, obviously, the different times that they were written in. Another, less obvious difference is that Refugee Blues was written with no personal experience and was written about a group from a country which he briefly experienced in a trip to Berlin 10 years prior to writing, in 1929. This is contrasted by Owen undoubtedly being influenced by his experiences at Craiglockhart Hospital where he wrote Disabled. This difference in influence could easily be one of many reasons for any contrast and variance in their depictions of the experiences of exile and isolation. Both poets expose the reality of isolation and exile, showing these experiences to be entrapping, unjust and revealing emotions of hopelessness and powerlessness. Owen thoroughly explores the state of isolation as entrapping and inescapable in Disabled. Throughout the poem the tense almost involuntarily switches between the dreamy “light-blue trees” of “his youth” to the present, with the soldier’s flowing, nostalgic memories of the past always being truncated by the sharp caesura of the present. For example in the second stanza the rhythmic, fertile language of “girls glanced” and “glow-lamps budded” is broken by “before he threw away his knees.” The slow, graceful rhythm, which is produced by the alliteration and fertile language, is sharply broken by the short blunt sentence which instantaneously withdraws the reader from the lament and into the present. This represents the soldier’s ineffective struggle to escape from the present into his dreamy past; therefore demonstrating the powerful hold that isolation and exile can have on a person. Owen reinforces the entrapment of isolation through the personification of “mothering” sleep, which reveals the comfort the soldier draws from sleep as it protects him from his torturous present. Although the soldier’s ability to sleep might suggest that the soldier is not in fact trapped by his isolation and is able to escape it, in reality sleep always comes to an end and the soldier is always reined in by his present life, just like when he is reined in from his memories. Owen’s exploration of the soldier’s present life being inescapable torture is very interesting as it contrasts common opinion, that soldiers were haunted by their past experiences in the war. This soldier’s wartime experiences are neglected throughout the poem, suggesting that they are unimportant, this emphasises Owen’s point, that neglect and isolation of veterans is actually worse than the wartime experiences. The theme of endless entrapment is similarly explored in Refugee Blues through the use of the refugee’s dreams. Auden uses the speaker’s reference to a dream to show the extent of the exile; even when a refugee is dreaming they are unable to escape their exile: “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”
On a simplistic level, the huge building represents the magnitude of the opportunities, which is accentuated by the triadic repetition of “a thousand”, that the couple are not able to have even when they are dreaming. By taking a step back, one can also realise that the building is a subtle reference to Hitler’s plans of ‘Lebensraum’ for the Aryan race. The dream is a double edged sword as it shows the entrapment that exile has over its subjects and it exposes the injustice of the Nazi regime and exile of the Jews by revealing...
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