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A Short Analysis of W. H. Auden’s ‘Refugee Blues’

A summary of a powerful poem

‘Refugee Blues’ is the title commonly given to the first song in W. H. Auden’s ‘Ten Songs’. The poem was completed in March 1939, while Auden was living in New York. The fact that ‘Refugee Blues’ was part of a cycle titled ‘Ten Songs’ prepares us for the rhythm of the stanzas, each ending with a refrain-like line featuring the expression ‘my dear’. The poem is spoken by a Jewish refugee living in New York, who is addressing his lover and reflecting on the fact that he – and many other refugees in a similar position – are not made welcome in the city. You can read ‘Refugee Blues’ here.

The best way to summarise the content of the poem might be to paraphrase it (even though something is inevitably lost in paraphrase, it can help to clarify the meaning of a poem before proceeding to an analysis of it). ‘Let’s assume there are ten million people living here in New York City. Some of them are rich, and some are dirt-poor. Yet apparently there’s no room for us, refugees fleeing persecution and death in Europe. We used to have a country where we belonged: it was ours. And although it still exists, we cannot return there. Yew trees growing in graveyards can bloom again every spring, but once we relinquished our passports and fled our homeland, we did so for good. Read the rest of this entry


A Short Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43: ‘When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see’

A summary of Shakespeare’s 43rd sonnet

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43 opens with an apparent paradox: ‘When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see’. How can you see most clearly when your eyes are, in fact, closed? The answer: when you’re dreaming. This is another one of William Shakespeare’s sleep sonnets, returning to a theme first explored in Sonnet 27.

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow’s form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me. Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of John Donne’s ‘A Hymn to God the Father’

A summary of a classic Donne poem

‘A Hymn to God the Father’ is one of John Donne’s most famous religious poems. As the Donne scholar P. M. Oliver observed, what makes Donne’s poem unusual and innovative is that, in ‘A Hymn to God the Father’, Donne has written a hymn that does not set out to praise God so much as engage him in a debate. The poem is one of Donne’s most masterly holy poems. Below are a few words of analysis.

A Hymn to God the Father

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more. Read the rest of this entry