Rukhaya M.K

A Literary Companion

Poetry Analysis: W.H.Auden’s “Funeral Blues”


W.H. Auden’s  “Funeral Blues” was first published as “Song IX” from ‘Twelve Songs’ (1936).The poem conjures up the atmosphere of a funeral. The tone of the poem is imperative as Death is commanding, inflexible and irreversible. The speaker dictates to stop all the clocks as time had been arrested for the deceased. To the ones associated with the dead person, Time had come to a standstill. All communication had been cut off, and therefore the telephone, a metaphor of contact and communication has to be cut off. The dog barking with a juicy bone is silenced as instinct no longer reigns supreme. The piano and drum are relegated as the harmony and beat of life has ceased. The coffin has to be brought, and the mourner has to be summoned in the process of mourning.

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

The airplanes seem to be moaning overhead paying a salute to the departed. They pay a tribute to him by scribbling in the sky his obituary. The public should be aware of the tragedy as the doves wear the crepe bows around their white necks. The traffic policemen join in the ritual of mourning by wearing 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 speaker then ruminates over the transitory nature of life, and the futility of existence. We presume that the glory and attachments in this world are permanent. We associate with them, our way of life; the person dear to us becomes our guide and direction as echoed by the words(East, West, North, South). They become both the reason for working hard in life and our solace on resting days. The deceased person had once been their day and night-intricately associated with the cycle of life. He stood for all his communication in life (talk) and song (his harmony and balance  )in life. The speaker had assumed that love would last forever; but finds it to be wrong as he is face-to-face with the irrefutable truth that life is transient.

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 woods;

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The very core of existence, the universe and the cycles seem to be pointless now. There is no point in reaching out to the stars, every fire in it has to be put out, the fire of passion. The moon has to be packed off and the sun, the centre of the solar system dismantled. The ocean has to be poured away, where water is said to comprise two-thirds of the world. The agony and frustration on the death of the person in question, is mirrored in the poem. The poet utilizes hyperbole as with the metaphysical poets or the Petrarchan sonneteers. Let the woods be sweeped up. The speaker invokes the violent imagery of Doomsday by these descriptions. Death is said to be another face of birth, as change is inevitable. Now that the most cherished possession is gone, nothing new can hardly matter.

©Rukhaya MK 2010

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1 Comment

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