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W. H. Auden's "Funeral Blues"

Updated on January 3, 2018
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

W. H. Auden

Source

Introduction and Text of Poem, "Funeral Blues"

W. H. Auden's "Funeral Blues," which is also known by the title, "Stop all the Clocks," is the opening poem in a duet of titles, known as "Two Songs for Hedli Anderson." Contemporary poetry lovers and movie buffs will, no doubt, recall that this poem was read in the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral.

This poem displays in four rimed stanzas. All stanzas feature the rime scheme, AABB, which means that each stanza is composed of two rimed couplets. The poem is quite easy, even for beginning poetry readers, to understand; its only controlling poetic device features hyperbole, that is, exaggeration.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

Funeral Blues

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Reading of "Funeral Blues"

Commentary

First Stanza: Stop It—Now—Everything!

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

The first stanza finds the speaker, who is a mourner, beginning an extended exaggeration of his grievance as he commands all the clocks to stop, and all telephones to be "cut off."

The speaker also desires that dogs be kept from barking by giving them "a juicy bone." He then demands that piano players be required to stop playing their cheerful tunes and that they have in place of those tunes a funeral dirge with a "muffled drum."

Then in the final line of the first stanza, the reader becomes aware of the reason that the speaker wishes everything to cease. Life for the speaker feels as thought it has stopped because his belovèd is now dead: "Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come."

Second Stanza: Demand for World to Adopt Mourning Pace

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

The speaker then expresses his wish that an airplane fly overhead, flinging the message across the sky: "He is Dead." This mourner desires "crepe bows" tied around the "white necks of the public doves." And he wishes to place black gloves of the policemen to be replace the white ones.

The speaker is concocting a ludicrous visage of the world because he senses himself to have lost his balance. He desires that the world reflect his own feeling; thus, he demands that everything and everyone adopt his mourner's reality.

Third Stanza: "He was my North, my South, my East and West"

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The third stanza finds the speaker announcing how important the dead man was to him: the deceased was the mourner's every direction, he was his every day of the week, and also his every time of day.

This suffering, mourning speaker is insisting that this dead man was, "my talk, my song." He was the speaker's necessary speech and also his entertainment. The speaker then flatly announces: "I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong."

The speaker has invested a great deal of his emotional life in this other person; therefore, he has now found himself totally lost and rudderless. He appears to be utterly devastated emotionally.

Fourth Stanza: Appreciating Deep Distress

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The most sorrowful, exaggerated expression is dramatized in the final stanza: the speaker is now demanding an end to everything in existence. This pathetically mourning speaker wants the stars to stop shining. He demands that the moon and the sun cease shining. He commands the ocean to be "pour[ed] away," and he desires that the "wood" to be swept away.

The world no longer exists for this apoplectically miserable speaker, and his deep sorrow motivates him to sense that, "nothing now can ever come to any good." While the poem is easily accessible, it displays a very clever construction. Although the speaker is calling for a situation that is impossible to achieve, his intensity of feeling makes his listeners/readers comprehend and even able to appreciate his deep distress.

Readings and listeners may even enjoy this poem, despite its pain and anguish because of the clever structure and execution achieved by the poet.

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes

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