Category Archives: Death & Poetry

Analysis W. H. Auden’s “Funeral Blues” or “Stop all the clocks”

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I was recently reminded of this W. H. Auden poem. Here it is followed by a brief analysis.

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.

Little analysis is needed here. The first two stanzas describe the author’s mourning of a friend or lover. He doesn’t want to be disturbed by the world around him and his personal grief dwarfs the concerns of the world. By the third stanza, it becomes clear that he has lost a lover, someone who meant everything to him. The final stanza introduces a number of tropes about romantic love—sun, moon, stars, ocean—and rejects them all. They are powerless in the face of his devastating loss. A short but powerful poem. 

In the end, though, I reject its main message. None of us are this important and we must remind ourselves daily that we and our loved ones are mortal. Still, our cares and concerns may yet endure in others who will follow us.