BSc BA ADP English Notes Poem Say This City Has Ten Million Souls (W. H. Auden) Important Questions
Questions No 1. Critically evaluate the poem “Say This City Has Ten Million Souls” by W. H. Auden.
Or. Bring out the theme, style and rhythm of the poem “Say This City Has Ten Million Souls” by W. H. Auden.
Or. What are the beauties and delicacies of W. H. Auden’s “Say This City Has Ten Million Souls”.
Ans. This is a very serious poem written in a light manner. The poet presents a serious thought for our consideration, the thought of man misbehaving with man on the basis of political, religious, or other such differences. Human life, when imprisoned in the chains of these difference, falls down beneath the animal level.
The tone of the writer is satiric but light. He presents the item/theme for us to consider but at no place becomes sour or bitter. Such a satire is better placed in literature as well as in life. The poet is able to impress us a lot and the poem leaves a lasting impression on us not only for the present but also for the future. The subject matter of the poem is humanitarian and, hence, very noble and sublime. It relates with man’s political distribution in the world society. It promotes human love and friendship and makes us realize our narrow mindedness that divides man into different compartments.
The poem is about the German Jews who migrated to the U. S. A. for the fear of the Hitler’s cruel treatment. It is sort of dramatic address or song in which they tell us about their bad condition. They know that the city of New York holds one crore persons, some very rich, others very poor. But the city does not have any shelter for them. They cannot return to their own country for fear of Hitler. Their passports have grown out-dated and do not hold any weight politically. Even yew trees in churchyards/graveyards have their spring time but the German Jews immigrants do not have any spring time. Even the political leaders of he U. S. A. speak against them. They are hunted and caught. They are not helped. Even the dogs, cats, fishes and birds have a home and can move freely here and there. But the immigrants do not have even as much freedom. Even in their dreams they see thousand-storeyed houses with numberless rooms – but there is no room for them at all.
The theme has been treated very seriously and rather satirically. The poet presents the case of the immigrants very ingenuously and cleverly. He makes a comparison between man’s life and bird (or animal) life. Even the birds, dogs, cats, fishes are free. They have a home. They are cared for. But the immigrants are deprived of all such facilities of life. The imagery of the poem, so to speak, is very real and full of reality.
The words used by the poet are evocative. They make us share the misery of the immigrants. The air of the poem is full of pathos. We are much impressed by the miserable lot of the fellows described in the poem. The repetition of the word “my dear” in third line of every stanza makes us feel on with them. Moreover, the repetition of the third line (except the words “my dear”) in every stanza in the fourth line leaves a sort of reassuring influence upon us and we cannot but be impressed with the style!
The poem is a sort of dramatic dialogue, or appeal of the immigrants to the public/readers. It has been written in 4 line stanzas with the first and second line of every stanza rhyming with each-other like heroic couplets and third line repeated (minus “my dear” as stated above!) in the fourth one for a sort of reassurance of the statement. All the lines are end stopped, without any sort of enjambment. The feet are neither regular nor equal in lines. They vary freely like free verse but the repetition of 3rd line into fourth gives a sort of repeated rhythm and music. The syllables vary between 6 and 14. Majority of the words in the repeated lines are monosyllabic. The poem leaves an effect on us as desired by the poet. It is a very successful poem. The poet has successfully captured the sense of alienation, estrangement and isolation of the “forced” immigrants and has made us aware of their social, political and human problems. It is written for the German immigrant Jews but its appeal is universal – it fits any sort of immigrants very effectively.
Question No 2. Bring out the misery and plight that was faced by the migrating German Jews in the U. S. A. (or New York)? [Say This City Has Ten Million Souls: W. H. Auden]
Ans. The poem “Say This City Has Ten Million Souls” by W. H. Auden tells us about the misery and plight of those German Jews that had migrated from Germany to U. S. A., specially to New York, for the fear of persecution at the hands of the Nazi Regime headed by Adolf Hitler.
These people were living at a sub-human level. They could not move freely. They could not have any solution of their problem. Even the American politicians were against their settlement in the U. S. A. They were the prey of the estrangement, alienation and isolation. Even dogs and cats were (at least the pet ones) welcomed into cozy homes, but not the refugees. Even the fishes could swim freely. Even the birds could fly in the air and sing happily and freely. But the immigrants could not enjoy such facilities.
They had their homeland, i. e., Germany still present on the pages of the Atlas but her gates were shut up for them. They could not return there as Hitler still ruled there and if they returned, he would kill them. Here in the U. S. A. they were facing the questions of identity and entity. Their passports had expired and could not be renewed.
Their life was miserable. They were, perhaps, kept in refugee camps. And if they would try to leave that and go somewhere else, they were searched out and brought back by the soldiers to their camps. They were living a very poor life. There was a lot misery in their life. One feels sad for them when one reads the poem.
Question No 3. The poet has used several numerical images: what effect does this create?
Ans. The poet has used several numerical images. This creates an effect of contrast. We at once begin feeling contrast between the rich city and the poor miserable refugees living in poor condition.
Question No 4. What is the basic theme of the poem?
Ans. The basic theme of the poem is alienation, estrangement and isolation of the immigrants/refugees in the new land. They have to live at sub-standard level. They are looked down upon. They are ill-treated. They are not looked after well.
Questions No 5. What are some of the typically urban elements of the poem?
Ans. This poem has many typically urban elements. The poet talks about “ten million souls” living in “mansions” and “holes”. He talks about the “passports”. He talks about the “consul” banging “the table”. He talks about the “committee” that “offered” “a chair” but did not solve the problems. He talks about “a public meeting” where the “speaker” was talking about a pet dog, “a poodle” in “a jacket”. He talks about “the harbour” and “the quay”. He talks about a dream of “a building with thousand floors” and “no one” for the refugees. All these are typically urban elements.