How Do The Poets Convey Isolat…
How Do The Poets Convey Isolation in Disabled and Refugee BluesBoth Wilfred Owen’s ‘Disabled’ and W.H. Auden’s ‘Refugee Blues’ address the themes of marginalization, misery and hopelessness as well as depicting the struggles and suffering that arises from these. Owen’s poem is inspired from his time at Craig Lockhart hospital during WW1 and his encounters with the various soldiers who were sent there while Auden’s work is based on the anguish faced by the German Jewish refugees who were forced to leave Germany. ‘Disabled’ has a structured rhythm which reflects the soldier’s strict regimented lifestyle. On the other hand, Auden incorporates the blues rhythm, which has a twelve-bar system, into his poem.
The Blues genre is symbolic for the fact that it was used by slaves to talk about their problems while working. By using this genre, the poet wants the reader to understand that the refugees are talking of their problems. Owen begins by creating a melancholy picture where a soldier is depicted in a gloomy, alienated state, sitting alone in a wheelchair. Owen immediately conveys the soldier’s sense of isolation by starting the poem with the third person pronoun: ‘He’ which indicates that the soldier could be one of many affected by the war. The poet further reinforces the soldier’s feeling of isolation and loneliness when he talks of the soldier as ‘He sits in a ghastly suit of grey, waiting for dark’. In this case, the euphemism ‘dark’ could represent both nighttime and death, directing the reader to the soldier’s sense of desperation and misery. The poet goes on to tell us that he wore a ‘ghastly suit of grey’ exacerbating his marginalization for this could be the uniform given to the patients in the Army hospital.
Additionally, this could also be seen as the soldier’s wheelchair which has confined him and taken away his ability to move and his independence. Here, the use of ‘ghastly’ and ‘grey’ is effective as it conveys the soldier’s dull and negative demeanor, portraying him as old and withered despite his young appearance. Auden meanwhile informs his audience of the plight that the German Jews face. The entire poem is narrated from their perspective. The constant repetition of the last line in each verse highlights the idea that they are disenfranchised. Right from the beginning of the poem where Auden talks about ‘Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes’, Auden makes us realize the difference between the Germans and the Jews. The constant juxtaposition in then and now is the same as ‘Disabled’.
There, the soldier reflects on his life before he went to war, while here, the Jews reflect on their life before Hitler went to war. Additionally, it creates a vivid picture in the readers’ minds as it informs them of the quandary of the refugees and how there is no home for them. When the ‘consul banged the table’, we are aware that he had the power to deny them while they were absolutely powerless. This emphasizes society’s distrust of the Jews, for even a consul, who is a figure who advises and helps is aggressively trying to reject the Jews. Owen complimentarily illustrates the soldier’s experience as unjust and undeservedly harsh. The counsel tells them that ‘if you’ve got no passport, you’re officially dead’. These words highlight the idea that he feels they are totally unimportant and they may as well be dead.
However, the irony is that ‘we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive’. Auden makes use of pathetic fallacy in the line ‘thought I heard thunder rumbling in the sky’ which foreshadows the upcoming havoc the Nazi regime is preparing to wreak. To the Germans, the Jews were considered to be distinctly unimportant and they were determined to exterminate the race completely as though they were vermin. The reader is reminded that the German Jews were in a peculiar predicament, for Hitler with his Anti-semitic views was propounding his theories all across Europe saying, ‘They must die’. As Hitler was the only powerful authority at that time and ruled over Europe, the Jews were silenced, marginalized and disenfranchised in their own country.Evidently, Owen considers society’s attitude towards the soldier as harsh and callous. This is clear in the three-line stanza ‘some cheered him home… inquired about his soul’ as the three lines could display the brevity of the acknowledgement he received or the fact that the soldier’s life has literally been shortened.
By using a three-line stanza, which contrasts to the rest of the poem, the poet isolates the stanza and compares it to the soldier, who has also been marginalized in comparison to everyone else. Owen ends the poem by repeating the clause ‘Why don’t they come?’ which is a euphemism for death, informing the reader of the soldier’s pain, despair and alienation. The unanswered question evokes sympathy and pity from the reader, for it could allude to the soldier waiting for the nurses to put him to bed, showing the reader the extent of damage caused and how it restricts him. Owen further emphasises people’s distaste for the soldier in the simile ‘all of them touch him like some queer disease’. ‘Queer’ has harsh connotations and links to the soldier’s entrapment and separation from society as it is defined as ‘peculiar’ and ‘inconvenience’; this implies that the soldier is an inconvenience to society. By referring to him as a disease, Owen dehumanizes the soldier and highlights society’s disregard for him as they feel the soldier is going to infect them. This simile shows the girls’ inability to connect with the now damaged soldier, who is longing to ‘feel again how slim girls’ waists are’.
Auden on the other hand, dehumanizes the Jews by comparing them to animals. He refers to them as symbols to show their presence in society. The anthropomorphic statements ‘Saw a poodle in a jacket’ and ‘saw a door opened and a cat let in’ accentuate their neglect as society would much rather pamper animals and deem them human than consider helping a marginalized race. It also creates a hierarchical disproportion as people consider animals to be worthier than Jews. The poet creates an image of freedom and carelessness in the line ‘fish swimming as if they were free: Only ten feet away’ which juxtaposes the position of the fish with the Jews, who are unable to live ‘as if they are free’ and displays the couple’s sense of frustration as they can see what they cannot have. Throughout the poem, Owen breaks the tense atmosphere by switching between the ethereal ‘light blue trees’ of ‘his youth’ to the present, where the soldier is powerless. An example of this is when the fruitful language of ‘girls glanced lovelier’ and ‘glow lamps budded’ is cut short by the caesura in the short, blunt line ‘before he threw away his knees’.
Owen explores the soldier’s life as being inescapable and incessant torment through the personification of ‘mothering’ sleep, which suggests that the soldier draws comfort from escaping his tortuous present. The theme of unending entrapment is further explored in ‘Refugee Blues’ through the dreams of the refugee, where he sees ‘a building with a thousand floors, A thousand windows and a thousand doors’, representing the extent of isolation and exile the German-Jews face, for even in their dreams, they cannot have anything. The repetition of the words ‘a thousand’ emphasizes the refugee’s feeling of disenfranchisement and neglect. Auden’s use of dreams differs to Owen’s nostalgic dream-like memories in that Owen presents the dreams as an escape to a better time where the soldier felt happier, while, Auden portrays dreams as a place where the Jews have nothing. In each stanza, the last line contains the words ‘my dear’ followed by an ominous statement such as ‘Yet there’s no place for us now’ which reveals the effect of the exile on the couple, where each stanza ends with a cry for help. Owen, instead, chooses to refrain from communicating with the reader to stress the soldier’s inability to make contact with society. Auden makes a comparison between the past and present in the line ‘We once had a country and thought it fair’ to express the couple’s feeling of exclusion.
Owen also makes a comparison between the soldier’s pre-war and post war experiences. By using In conclusion, Both poems ‘Disabled’ addresses these through the use of sudden comparisons between two points in the soldier’s life while ‘Refugee Blues’ uses emotive and vivid language to suggest that the couple’s future is