Guest poem submitted by David Croll:
(Poem #1869) Refugee Blues
Say this city has ten million souls Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes: Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us. Once we had a country and we thought it fair, Look in the atlas and you'll find it there: We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now. In the village churchyard there grows an old yew, Every spring it blossoms anew: Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that. The consul banged the table and said, "If you've got no passport you're officially dead": But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive. Went to a committee; they offered me a chair; Asked me politely to return next year: But where whall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day? Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said; "If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread": He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me. Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky; It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die": O we were in is mind, my dear, O we were in his mind. Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin, Saw a door opened and a cat let in: But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews. Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay, Saw the fish swimming if they were free: Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away. Walked through a wood, saw birds in the trees; They had no politicians and sang at their ease: They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race. 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. Stood on a great plain in the falling snow; Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro: Looking for you and me, my dears, looking for you and me.
This poem first struck my attention in the fall of 2003, when I was engaged in preparation for the university-entrance diploma exams. Second, I was getting to know my girlfriend then, for whom I translated it into German. A few people said I was fallen in love when they read the translation, and they were right. What Auden conveys so convincingly is the apparent futileness of intellect in face of circumstances like the mass extermination of Jews during the Second World War; and because most of the killed Jews have not been intellectual masterminds like Auden was, he correctly puts the words on the tongue of laymen: They can't understand anything about their doom, because doom just waits for them. They resort to analogies they understand (birds, fishes, the lameness of bureaucracy) and know how to use them - but they use them with striking efficacy. David Croll. [thomas adds] Vikram Doctor's commentary on Poem #427, "The Two", is worth reproducing here: The other Auden poems we've had so far show his lyrical side or his questioning intelligence. But this poem has another aspect of Auden's - the ability to create a picture of nightmarish fear, of being hunted and pursued, of having 'them' after you. Not for nothing is Auden the dominant poet of the Thirties, the worst, most frightening and disturbed decade of our century. The Depression, the rise of fascism and other tyrannies, all the cowardices and compromises of what he called 'a low dishonest decade', it all seeps into Auden's verse, and what he does with it is unforgettable. -- http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/427.html See also: Poem #371, "O What Is That Sound?" Poem #386, "The Unknown Citizen" Poem #889, "September 1, 1939" Poem #1508, "O Where Are You Going?" for more examples of Auden's reaction to the nightmare of WWII.