Friday, August 26, 2005

The Refugee's Lament

Teach wanted me to post Auden's 'Refugee Blues', written in March 1939, because it is just wonderful, and heartbreaking. I think it is companion to Cohen's 'The Partisan'. Herewith.

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 shall 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 his 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 as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the 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 dear, looking for you and me.


The Partisan

When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender, this I could not do;
I took my gun and vanished.

I have changed my name so often,
I've lost my wife and children
but I have many friends,
and some of them are with me.

An old woman gave us shelter,
kept us hidden in the garret,
then the soldiers came;
she died without a whisper.

There were three of us this morning
I'm the only one this evening
but I must go on;
the frontiers are my prison.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we'll come from the shadows.

Les Allemands e'taient chez moi, (The Germans were at my home)
ils me dirent, "Signe toi," (They said, "Sign yourself,")
mais je n'ai pas peur; (But I am not afraid)
j'ai repris mon arme. (I have retaken my weapon.)
J'ai change' cent fois de nom, (I have changed names a hundred times)
j'ai perdu femme et enfants (I have lost wife and children)
mais j'ai tant d'amis; (But I have so many friends)
j'ai la France entie`re. (I have all of France)
Un vieil homme dans un grenier (An old man, in an attic)
pour la nuit nous a cache', (Hid us for the night)
les Allemands l'ont pris; (The Germans captured him)
il est mort sans surprise. (He died without surprise.)

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,
through the graves the wind is blowing,
freedom soon will come;
then we'll come from the shadows.

2 comments:

Rachy said...

Auden always writes beautiful poetry, but I think he outdid himself with that one.

teach said...

"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.": the part that breaks my heart every time...