“Refugee Blues” was written by the British poet W.H. Auden. First published in 1939, on the eve of World War II, the poem meditates on the plight of Jewish refugees—forced to flee Nazi Germany, but unable to find refuge elsewhere. As the poem does so, it raises broader questions about isolation, loneliness, and exile. It depicts the trauma and pain of being forced to leave home—and of being unable to find a place of safety and security in a violent and uncertain world.
Say this city ...
... go there now.
In the village ...
... are still alive.
Went to a ...
... you and me.
Thought I heard ...
... weren't German Jews.
Went down the ...
... the human race.
Dreamed I saw ...
... you and me.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
"Refugee Blues" Read Aloud — Shelia Hancock recites W.H. Auden's "Refugee Blues" for Holocaust Memorial Day, 2017.
An Introduction to the Holocaust — A detailed introduction to the Holocaust from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, with links to many other resources on the history of the Holocaust.
W.H. Auden's Life — A detailed biography of the British poet from the Poetry Foundation.
German Jewish Refugees, 1933-1939 — An article from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on the fate of Jewish refugees in the 1930s.
"Poetry Makes Nothing Happen" — An essay from the Boston Review on W.H. Auden's life long struggle with whether or not to write politically engaged poems.
1Say this city has ten million souls,
2Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
3Yet there's no place for us, my dear, yet there's no place for us.
4Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
5Look in the atlas and you'll find it there:
6We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.
7In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
8Every spring it blossoms anew:
9Old passports can't do that, my dear, old passports can't do that.
10The consul banged the table and said,
11"If you've got no passport you're officially dead":
12But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.
13Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
14Asked me politely to return next year:
15But where shall we go to-day, my dear, but where shall we go to-day?
16Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said;
17"If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread":
18He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.
19Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
20It was Hitler over Europe, saying, "They must die":
21O we were in his mind, my dear, O we were in his mind.
22Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
23Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
24But they weren't German Jews, my dear, but they weren't German Jews.
25Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
26Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
27Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.
28Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
29They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
30They weren't the human race, my dear, they weren't the human race.
31Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
32A thousand windows and a thousand doors:
33Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.
34Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
35Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
36Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.