Funeral Blues is a poem by W H Auden that deals with themes of grief and loss. It is written from the perspective of someone who is grieving the death of a person dear to them. It was initially composed in 1936 as a part of the play “The Ascent of F6”, and later published as a poem.
This poem has 16 lines, split into four quatrains. Each quatrain consists of two rhyming couplets, that is, the first two lines and the last two lines of each stanza rhyme. This poem’s rhyme scheme is AABB. This provides a consistent rhythm throughout the poem and is reminiscent of a funeral march’s repetitive drum. The rhythmic poetry is also used to allow this poem to be easily followed by readers or listeners and to helps in making it memorable. The poem was published in 1938.
Funeral Blues | Summary and Analysis
Funeral Blues | Analysis, Lines 1-4
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 speaker wants the entire world to come to a standstill. “Cut off the telephone,” says the speaker, desiring silence, but also no longer valuing the companionship and human connection that the telephone could bring. The desire to prevent the dog from barking with its juicy bone also shows us that the speaker desires silence, and that the happiness or joy of others is no longer relevant. The dog barking is a sign of happiness, and the muzzling of that shows the absolute anguish that the speaker expects in the world. The silenced pianos mean the silencing of song, and dance, and party. All that needs to be heard is the sound of the funeral drums as the mourners congregate around the coffin of the dead.
Funeral Blues | Analysis, Lines 5-8
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.
This stanza makes it sound as though an important, global figure had died. The aeroplanes should fly and tell the world by writing it in the sky. Every inch of the outside world should respond appropriately to such a death. Doves should fly dressed in mourning, and even traffic police should wear black gloves as the whole world mourns the dead. The moaning sounds that the speaker expects from the aeroplanes is the speaker’s desire for the world to lament the death of this person, so even the aeroplanes are moaning with grief.
Funeral Blues | Analysis, Lines 9-12
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 person who died was very near and dear to the speaker, so we understand that the speaker felt that he was of such importance that the whole world should grieve as though they too feel this loss. This person filled every waking moment of the speaker’s life. Everywhere they looked, this love was there for them, any time of day or night, in happiness or sadness, this love was there for the speaker. The speaker thought this love would last forever. The short and abrupt “I was wrong” reflects the abrupt end due to death, and the short love that the speaker thought would last forever.
Here, the repetition of “my” in the first two lines emphasizes how the person who died was so important and integral to the speaker’s life. It reinforces that the dead man was the one that the speaker turned to for everything, and whose death leaves a gaping hole in their life.
Funeral Blues | Analysis, Lines 13-16
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.
It is not just this world that must come to a standstill. The beauty of the universe is no longer relevant to the speaker, the stars can go out, the moon and sun are no longer needed. The ocean can be drained away and the forests can be swept up. Due to this misery and anguish, the speaker believes nothing can ever come to any good ever again, so all these things are pointless and meaningless.
The poet uses strong imagery to represent the breakdown of the world. The moon should be packed up, the sun should be dismantled. These actions are highly exaggerated yet a feeling that people can connect to. The desire for the ocean to be poured away and for the woods to be swept up, as it no longer feels as though life can go, on brings an image of completely cleaning out the world and leaving it as empty as the speaker feels.
The speaker is crippled with grief and wants the whole world to stop moving and grieve with them. It is a poem of pain and loss coupled with the desire for this person to be recognized as important. The world keeps on moving even though the speaker’s life seems to have come to an abrupt stop, the death of their love having put a period in their flow of life. The lack of the person who filled up every moment of life motivates the speaker to put a stop to the loud chaotic world and bring silence and respect to the funeral of this man.
Funeral Blues | About The Poet
W.H. Auden was born in England, on 21 February 1907. He was an Anglo-American poet, author, and playwright.
His poetry usually deals with moral, social, or political issues. His first collection, simply titled “Poems” was published in 1928. His style was varied and versatile, as he wrote poems in all verse forms, some extremely long, some very short, and incorporated all kinds of knowledge into his poetry.
He was a great influence in the world of poetry during the 20th century and received a Pulitzer Prize for “The Age of Anxiety” in 1948. Some of his notable works are “The Shield of Achilles”, “September 1, 1939”, and “Musée des Beaux Arts”.
He died on 29 September 1973, in Vienna, Austria.