Refugee Blues

Today I post a poem by WH Auden. It was written in 1939.

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 today, my dear, but where shall we go today?

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’;
We were in his mind, my dear, 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.


Back in 2010 when I was asking for sins to carry, one of my sinners gave me this:

As you know I’m passionate about racism and human rights and still carry anger (a sin?) towards John Howard & Philip Ruddock for the damage they did to refugees and to our country’s soul. I would like to know that I am funding part of your pilgrimage as an attempt to walk off some of this damage….repair our country’s soul.

I thought of my sinner this morning, as I heard one of our politicians, Judi Moylan, calling for her party members – and their leader – to engage in bi-partisan conversations about the issue of “boat people”. It made me pause to wonder…

What if we spoke of “desperate people” rather than “boat people”? What if our politicians actually talked to each other in the coming days instead of continuing their usual bickering and point-scoring? What if in their conversations they could find a way to compassionately and quickly process the applications of people seeking refuge on our shores?

What if a poem like this never had to be written again?


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