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War in ‘Refugee Blues’ and ‘Disabled’

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1282 words Published: 28th Sep 2017

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Title: Explore How Writers Treat the Subject of Wastefulness Of War in the Two Texts You Have Studied.

It is ostensible that both texts, ‘Refuge Blues’ and ‘Disabled’, have been influenced by the writers’ own personal experiences as they both accurately replicate the true brutality behind wars. ‘Refugee Blues’ by W. H. Auden is a poem about the harsh realities of war; including themes such as: loss, suffering, and change. ‘Disabled’ by Wilfred Owen is similar in this manner and it also echoes the same message Auden is trying to convey; the wastefulness of war. The title of the poem ‘Refugee Blues’ tells us a lot of what it is about as the poem’s sense of musicality is conspicuous in the title. The definition of the word ‘refugee’ is a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. The use of the word ‘refugee’ implies that the poem is about a person or a group of people attempting to escape their country, Nazi Germany, but cannot, due to the fact that they do not own passports; leaving them homeless. The word ‘blues’ is a reference towards the sub-genre of jazz; a refrain is placed at the end of each stanza in the poem, customary for a blues song, in order to echo a melancholy tone. ‘Disabled’ exploits the impact of war on those who live through it by analysing the present life of an injured soldier to his past accomplishments.

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Auden and Owen explore the theme of loss in order to portray the wastefulness of war through the use of: repetition, imagery and emphasis. In ‘Refugee Blues’, Auden uses repetition at the end of the first stanza, when it says,’ We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there’, repetition makes it more poignant as it emphasises the problem that they cannot escape their own country as they lack passports which is later revealed in the second stanza when it states, ‘Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that’, leaving them homeless. ‘Disabled’ contains vivid imagery which exaggerates the theme of loss such as, ‘he will never feel again how slim girls’ waists are…all of them touch him like some queer disease’, and, ‘he noticed how the women’s eyes passed from him to the strong men that were whole’, making the ex-soldier socially isolated. An example of emphasis and exaggeration is in ‘Refugee Blues’ when, in the eleventh stanza, it states, ‘Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors…not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours’, a hyperbole is used to highlight their situation, homelessness, creating sympathy for the reader. Owen alternates between using vulnerable language such as, ‘his back will never brace’, when he refers to the present in order to show that he is now weak and defenceless. The juxtaposition of remembrance and the masculine language when he refers to the past such as, ‘he’d look a god in kilts’, abruptly makes the reader realise that he is lost and can never be the man he once was. All of these examples coincide together in the way that they all scrutinize the subject: wastefulness of war.

The theme of suffering is evident throughout the two poems in the way that the ‘disabled’ ex-soldier is struggling to live in the present and come to grips with his fate. This is palpable in the first stanza when the, ‘Voices of boys ran saddening like a hymn, voices of play and pleasures after day’. He is dressed formally in a ‘ghastly suit of grey’ which is cut at the waist, showing that he has lost his legs; he listens to the voices of young children which disheartens him, reminding him of something he can never have again. In ‘Refugee Blues’ suffering is indisputable as the whole poem is about presumably a male Jew and his partner being homeless; suffering, desperately trying to find a place to emigrate, but unfortunately cannot as ‘Old passports can’t do that’, this relates, previously, to the refugees being lost. The last stanza of ‘Refugee Blues’ conveys that, ‘Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro: looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me’, once again repetition has been used in order to accentuate that there is a whole army looking for just two people. Furthermore, the repetition could also reference towards the nature of the blues rhythm; repetition. The final stanza of ‘Disabled’ states, ‘he will spend a few sick years in institutes’, implying that he will spend a few ‘sick’, crippled, years attending institutes before he passes away, perhaps. Furthermore, in the last stanza, it claims, ‘how cold and late it is! Why don’t they come and put him to bed? Why don’t they come?’ This is a prime example of double entendre as it references towards the nurses not coming ‘and put[ting] him into bed’, and it refers to death not coming soon enough to take his life as he cannot handle the excruciating suffering anymore. All of the evidence provided, proves that suffering is a common theme among ‘Refugee Blues’ and ‘Disabled’.

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In addition, the message of change has been thoroughly examined in ‘Disabled’ and ‘Refugee Blues’. The rhyming pattern in ‘Disabled’ is an ‘A, B, A, C, B, C’, for example in the first stanza the words ‘dark’, ‘park’, ‘grey’, ‘day’, ‘hymn’ and ‘him’ all rhyme, however, the rhyming pattern in the last stanza becomes more irregular. This is done to prove how the ex-soldier’s life used to be perfect and regular but has now changed and become irregular. This is in contrast to ‘Refugee Blues’, which contains a regular ‘A, A, B’ rhyming pattern. In ‘Refugee Blues’ the status of Jews were lowered as animals were being treated more humane than the Jewish people when it states, ‘Saw a door opened and a cat let in’, and nature is being proved to be free, unlike the Jews in, ‘Saw the fish swimming as if they were free…walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees; they had no politicians and sang at their ease’, this exaggerates how all this freedom is tantalisingly close and that they are trapped by laws and oppressed by Hitler’s commands; this explains the change in their country. At the beginning of the poem ‘Disabled’ the man is portrayed to have had an active and successful interaction with women. He was an attractive young man, exuberant and enjoyed the ladies’ attention. Later on, he was left sexually incompetent and can no longer receive pleasures from the things that he once was comforted with. In the final stanza, the last lines places emphasis on the fact that the man he once was, winning football matches, being proud of a blood smear, is now replaced by a crippled, hopeless shell who pleads desperately and helplessly for someone to come, ‘and put him into bed’; death. The evidence provided proves that Auden and Owen have exploited the theme of change.

The idea in the poem ‘Refugee Blues’ shows how futile intellect is, especially in the face of the mass extermination of Jews during the second world war: this idea has evidently been put across. Likewise, the idea of ‘Disabled’ is to show the true colours behind war and the ineffectiveness of it: Owen has unmistakably advocated this concept. Like each other, ‘Refugee Blues’ and ‘Disabled’ are both dark and chilling poems. They distress the reader in order to present the true meaning behind war. It is interesting, then, to conclude that Auden and Owen have eloquently portrayed the harsh realities of war through themes such as: loss, suffering and change. Various language techniques have also been used such as: rhyming to create an impact; juxtapositions in order to contrast and analyse; and vivid imagery to generate an effect for the reader.


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