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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 W. H. Auden’s ‘Epitaph on a Tyrant’

A reading of a short political poem

‘Epitaph on a Tyrant’ is one of Auden’s short masterpieces. In just six lines, W. H. Auden (1907-63) manages to say so much about the nature of tyranny. You can read ‘Epitaph on a Tyrant’ here and watch Auden reciting the poem here, before proceeding to our short analysis of this powerful poem that remains all too relevant today. We’re going to go through the poem line by line and combine our summary of ‘Epitaph on a Tyrant’ with a close textual analysis of it, since every line yields new observations and questions.

W. H. Auden spent some time in Berlin during the 1930s, and it was here that he probably wrote ‘Epitaph on a Tyrant’, which was published in 1939, the year that the Second World War broke out. The specific tyrant Auden had in mind, then, was probably Adolf Hitler, though the poem can be analysed as a study in tyranny more generally, too. Read the rest of this entry

10 Classic W. H. Auden Poems Everyone Should Read

The best Auden poems

W. H. Auden (1907-1973) wrote a great deal of poetry, with many of the best Auden poems being written in the 1930s. In this post, we’ve taken on the difficult task of finding the ten greatest Auden poems – difficult because, although certain poems naturally rise to the surface and proclaim their greatness, there are quite a few of those. Here’s our top ten. Are there any classic poems by Auden that we’ve left off the list? Click on the title of each poem to read it.

Stop all the clocks’. Also known as ‘Funeral Blues’, this poem, one of Auden’s ‘Twelve Songs’ originally published in 1936, needs no introduction, perhaps. Since it was recited in the funeral in the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral, it achieved worldwide fame and brought Auden’s poetry to a whole new audience. We’ve analysed this classic funeral poem here. Read the rest of this entry