“Refugee Blues” [National Poetry Month]

April 15, 2022

“Refugee Blues” by W.H. Auden (1939)

Refugee Blues (image: a small girl sits on a box in a homeless or refugee camp)

Image Source: Canva

For #NationalPoetryMonth I am sharing one poem a week and spotlighting authors. I hesitate to copy the poem in this post because I do not want to break copyright laws, so I’ll link to it and hopefully you’ll click over and we can discuss it back here!

Honestly, I don’t read a great deal of poetry. My favorite form of poetry is a free verse novel (a full post on that coming later this month)….is that cheating? I’m looking forward to selected poetry in April so I can discover some new favorite poems and authors.

“Refugee Blues”

When I came across this poem (written in 1939), I couldn’t help but be struck by its tragic timeliness. As we watch the world news (war against Ukraine) and see refugee faces, I hope each of you have found a way to give to the relief efforts in a way that makes sense to you. I know the missionary organization I support is grateful for the solidarity of our prayers and for financial gifts. To help the refugee and the most innocent and fragile among us is our greatest calling.

I think you migh appreciate this poignant poem by Auden and it’s unique structure.

Read “Refugee Blues” by W. H. Auden

From the annotations: “In this poem Auden uses as a template the blues tradition, which developed in Black communities in the United States and has its origins in slave songs. Though composed through improvisation, the blues has a rigid pattern and strong use of repetition.

Auden applies this format to the plight of Jews in Europe at the time of the Nazi persecution in the 1930s and the difficulties and indifference they faced when seeking asylum. In setting the poem to the template of a blues song Auden could be drawing an analogy; both people have suffered.

The poem comprises three lined stanzas known as tercets. The first two lines of each stanza rhyme. The third line of each stanza is divided into two sections, internally rhymed, but separated by the refrain ‘my dear’. This works like the repeating chorus of a song.” ~Source

Hear “Refugee Blues” here.

  • OK….what did you think?
  • Were you able to relate to this poem in some way?
  • Have you read other poems by Auden?

Related: Books I’ve reviewed with Refugee themes: Refugee by Alan Gratz, Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (scroll down page), Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga, The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri, and The Boat People by Sharon Bala.

Meet the Author, W.H. Auden

Poet W.H. AudenWystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973) was a British-American poet. Auden’s poetry was noted for its stylistic and technical achievement.

He was born in York and grew up in and near Birmingham in a professional middle-class family. He attended various English independent (or public) schools and studied English at Christ Church, Oxford. After a few months in Berlin in 1928–29, he spent five years (1930–35) teaching in British private preparatory schools, then travelled to Iceland and China to write books about his journeys.

In 1939, he moved to the United States and became an American citizen in 1946, retaining his British citizenship. He taught from 1941 to 1945 in American universities, followed by occasional visiting professorships in the 1950s. From 1947 to 1957 he wintered in New York and summered in Ischia; from 1958 until the end of his life he wintered in New York (in Oxford in 1972–73) and summered in Kirchstetten, Lower Austria.


Do you read poetry?
Do you have a favorite poem?

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  1. Wow, a very powerful poem indeed. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I do enjoy it occasionally. I like different types of poetry, but overall I enjoy the ones that are straight forward and don’t require me to interpret them or guess what the author is trying to tell me. Great post, Carol.

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