Summary of Funeral Blues by Auden

“Funeral Blues” by Auden is an elegy, a poem of lament for a recently deceased companion. Its title is ambiguous. It may relate to the music performed at New Orleans funerals, it reflects the speaker’s own “blues” over this unexpected and devastating loss, and it alludes to the poetry itself, the expression of melancholy through words, metre, and rhyme. The poem as a whole pays respect to an individual who was the object of the speaker’s devotion and depicts the emotional devastation that comes with loss and the disillusionment with life that frequently follows.

The poem opens with a sequence of imperatives in which the speaker requests that all everyday sounds be muted, including ticking clocks, ringing telephones, and barking dogs. The addition of a spondee (/ /) intensifies the first demand, expressing the speaker’s intention that this normally routine day be unusually serious. Even the funeral music, which includes “pianos” and a “muffled drum” (line 3), is purposefully muted. This is not the time for celebratory or frivolous sounds. The speaker instructs “aeroplanes” hovering overhead in the second stanza to “[Scribble] on the sky the message He is Dead” (line 6). Here, the sky becomes a big billboard or writing pad on which the speaker makes the sombre announcement of his friend’s death, the message’s upper-case type emphasising the friend’s deity-like position in the speaker’s eyes. In an almost pitiful illusion, the planes are heard “moaning” (line 5), keening in response to the bad news. The speaker continues with the imperatives, insinuating that “crepe bows” be tied on the “white necks of public doves” (line 7) and that traffic police officers “wear black cotton gloves” (line 8). Thus, white, the symbolic colour of innocence, is diminished or replaced by black, the traditional colour of mourning and one that represents a public acknowledgement of death (much like the black band worn by athletes on their uniforms on similarly mournful occasions).

Stanza three ushers the poem into a more personal, first-person perspective, with the speaker conceding in lines 9-12 that the deceased was

….my North, my South, my East, my 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 stanza is dense with metaphor, with the speaker equating his beloved buddy to a compass, a calendar week, times of day, discussion, and song, demonstrating his friend’s all-encompassing affection and engagement. The stanza’s final two declarative phrases convey a romantic belief before ruthlessly and bluntly dispelling it with a harsh reality. Individuals perish. Love perishes. That is the nature of existence.

Auden’s poem’s last line contains the most intriguing wording. The speaker’s despair is so total that no celestial body, not stars, not moon, not sun can provide any ray of hope. Rather than that, the speaker dismisses the stars, declaring them “unwanted now” (line 13), and then, returning to the imperative, commands God or the cosmos to “put out every one” (line 13), like so many celestial candles. The vocabulary that follows is disjointed since it connects enormous natural bodies such as the sun, moon, ocean, and forest to minute everyday tasks such as packing a box, disassembling something, pouring something out, or sweeping something up. The verbs here, which are all imperatives, imply dismissing as if nothing in nature can ever bring him happiness again.

Auden’s poem succinctly and effectively expresses the universal anguish of loss, as well as the disconsolation and disillusionment that such loss can bring. It is a fantastic illustration of how a gifted poet can do complex things within a simple poetic form, as it is written in predominantly masculine rhyme with lines ranging from tetrameter to hexameter.

Analysis of Funeral Blues

Lines 1-2
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

The poem begins with a series of harsh commands: stop the clocks! Cut off the telephones! The speaker sounds forceful, even angry.


Whoever the speaker is, he sounds angry and issues harsh commands. In the first line, he wants to stop the clocks and the telephone. These seem like physical representations of time and communication to us. He wants everything to just stop.


In the next line, he asks for silence. He wants dogs to stop barking, too.

Lines 3-4
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

This is not a time for pianos. It’s a time for muffled drums. Now that he’s asked the dog and the phone to hush, he has no problem extending that request to musical instruments.

Except he’s not opposed to the drum. That element fits the title. If this is a funeral we’re dealing with, drums are much more solemn and fitting for the occasion.

In the next line, he wants the coffin to be brought out for mourners to come to see it. Maybe the “muffled drum,” then, is the sound of mourners walking, or of pallbearers carrying a coffin. Or maybe it is slow and stately drumming that the speaker wants the kind of drumming that happens at military funerals.

The interesting thing about these two lines and the first two as well is that they are all commands, also known as imperatives. The speaker is making a big pronouncement to the world: someone has died, and we must acknowledge it in dramatic ways.

These lines might even seem a little exaggerated. Should we really stop the clocks just because someone has died? Probably not. But the speaker’s use of hyperbole or exaggeration conveys just how important all this mourning business is.

Line 3 has eleven syllables, and line 4 has ten. It is safe to call this one iambic pentameter.

And by the end of stanza 1, we’ve also got a clear rhyme scheme at work. “Telephone” rhymes with “bone,” and “drum” rhymes with “come.”

Whenever you see a four-line stanza or quatrain that has an aabb rhyme scheme in a poem about a funeral, you’re reading an elegiac stanza.

Lines 5-6
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,

As if stopping the clocks weren’t enough, the speaker would like an aeroplane to write “He is Dead” in skywriting to commemorate his grief. If a funeral is a public acknowledgement of death, then this is a super public acknowledgement of death.

While earlier he asked for quiet, and for people to cut off their telephones (which are private communication devices), he wants the whole world to know that “He Is Dead.”
Interestingly, the speaker doesn’t provide a name. He could have written, for example, “John Is Dead.” Or “Tommy Is Dead.” But he leaves the dead man’s name anonymous. Maybe he wants more privacy after all. Or maybe he assumes that everyone already knows “his” name. Either way, there’s an interesting mixture between private and public acknowledgements of death.

Lines 7-8

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Put crépe bows round the white necks of the public doves, Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

More public demands; the speaker wants even the “public doves” – we have a strong feeling that these are pigeons – to honour the dead man. He wants the traffic police to acknowledge him, too.

Does the speaker really want us to put bows on pigeons? It seems our man is getting hyperbolic again.

Lines 9-10
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,

This speaker is so broken up about the experience (and wants everyone else to be broke up about it, too) because he really loved the dead man. It doesn’t seem like the dead man was important worldwide. The dead man is someone the speaker knew and loved in daily life.

These lines are incredibly personal, especially when compared to the earlier lines that are mostly about public mourning. The dead man meant everything to the speaker, so it’s no wonder he’d like the entire world around him to reflect the fact that the man is dead.

The speaker describes the dead man by saying that he was like a compass for him, and also like every day of the week for him. He provided direction and filled his time.

Lines 11-12
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
More metaphors. These lines seem to imply that the dead man filled every hour of the speaker’s day. He brought conversation and joy into the speaker’s life.

While the previous lines were lovely and metaphorical, this one is harsh. Your loved ones will die. No love lasts forever.

Lines 13-14
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,

The speaker grows even more depressed in these lines. He demands that someone, whoever he’s talking to, put out the stars, pack up the moon, and take apart the sun. Now his grief is so extreme, it’s affecting the way he sees the cosmos.

His extreme, hyperbolic commands are his expressions of his extreme grief. Even though no one could ever “dismantle the sun,” the speaker’s grief is so intense that he wishes that we could. All of these romantic and natural images—the stars, the moon, the sun- are too painful for him. It’s almost as if he wants to blot out everything in the world except his own mourning.

Lines 15-16
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

In these final lines, the speaker continues his hyperbolic thinking and asks us to get rid of the ocean and the wood (by “wood,” he probably means the forests). He doesn’t want to see any sign of the wonders of nature.

In the last line of the poem, he is totally hopeless, the speaker says that nothing will ever be good again.

In a lot of elegies (poems like this one that commemorates a person’s death), the speaker will offer some hope for the future or will talk about how the dead person will live on in memories and poetry. There’s usually a small moment of optimism buried somewhere in them but this does not happen in Auden’s “Funeral Blues.” This is just a really sad poem about death. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for anyone in “Funeral Blues.”

The speaker spends the first stanza of “Funeral Blues” complaining about how much he wants everyone and everything to be silent. Maybe he wants some peace and quiet to deal with his thoughts. Maybe he wants to make sure that everyone can hear his lament. Maybe he wants silence out of respect for the dead man.

Line 1: The speaker wants to cut off personal communication with the world: he wants to stop the telephone lines from running. He’s looking for isolation. He’s probably being hyperbolic here, which means that he’s exaggerating his feelings and desires to show just how sad and hopeless he is.

Line 2: He also wants to stop dogs from barking. Poor dogs. It’s not their fault.

Line 3: Now he’d like people to quit playing the piano, thank you very much. Seems fair enough. This is a funeral after all.

Lines 3-4: He wants to hear the “muffled drum” of the funeral march. The speaker wants to hear this and this only. It’s like all other noise is a distraction from what really matters, which is his pain.

The Public – Symbol Analysis

The speaker is not just concerned with his own reaction to the man’s death. He wants the acknowledgement of the public, too. Even though we don’t really have much of a reason to think that the dead beloved is famous or anything, the speaker really desires that this death be noticed. Perhaps his grief is so consuming, that he wants it to be reflected in the entire world around him.

Lines 1-4: The speaker wants quiet so that the drum of the funeral march can be heard by the mourners of the dead man. Once again, he’s being hyperbolic. No one can really expect every dog in the world to stop barking just because a funeral is happening somewhere in the world.

Lines 5-6: The speaker asks aeroplanes to proclaim the man’s death through skywriting. It’s like he wants the whole world to know what he’s going through.

Lines 7-8: He even wants policemen and pigeons to acknowledge the man’s death. Once again, hyperbole.

Lines 9-12: Compared to the previous lines that deal with the public, these lines seem quiet and intimate, and we realize what the dead man meant to the speaker. He wants a public acknowledgement of the man with whom he’s spent his private life.

Nature – Symbol Analysis

Sun, moon, stars…sounds lovely, right? Well, not to our speaker. He wants all these lovely things – and everything else in nature, it seems – to leave him alone. The grief he feels seems to have interfered with his ability to appreciate nature.

Line 11: Here, the speaker says that the dead man was everything to him.

Lines 13-16: The speaker calls for us to “put out” the stars, “pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.” He wants every beautiful thing that nature provides to go away. No more ocean, no more forests. This guy is so sad that he doesn’t even want the stars around to remind him of his dead beloved. He’s being hyperbolic, of course; he probably doesn’t actually think that someone could “dismantle” the sun. But he yearns for this isolation from the natural world anyway.

Analysis: Form and Meter – Elegy

Elegies can take lots of different shapes and forms since there are no rhyming or metrical rules for an elegy. “Funeral Blues” is that is written in elegiac stanzas. An elegiac stanza is a quatrain written in iambic pentameter, usually with the rhyme scheme abab. Here’s where the “more or less” comes in. “Funeral Blues” is written in quatrains, and it does make use of iambic pentameter, but it’s highly irregular in its meter, with extra syllables here and shaky feet there. And the rhyme scheme is tweaked a bit, too: aabb instead of abab. Auden is using heroic couplets instead of alternating rhymes.

Analysis: Speaker

Let’s list what we know about the speaker.

1. We don’t actually know if the speaker is male or female.
2. He/she likes issuing commands and telling people what to do.
3. He’s sad.

The speaker is so sad that he can’t imagine any good or happiness in the future. He’s so overwhelmed by grief that he’s driven to speak in crazy hyperboles. It’s as if his sadness has completely changed the way he sees the world around him, and he wants that sadness to be reflected back to him by everything he sees. The problem is, he exaggerates so consistently that we may even have trouble taking him seriously sometimes.

Analysis: Setting

This poem is set at a funeral. This isn’t about a small chapel, filled with loved ones in black. The setting, in many ways, is the whole wide world. The speaker wants that sadness to be reflected in everything – from the pigeons in the street to the stars in the sky. The true setting of “Funeral Blues” includes all of those things.

Analysis: Title

The poem is called “Funeral Blues,” It’s a sad song (blues) about a dead man (funeral).

Poetic / language devices

Auden’s images in the opening verse successfully convey the speaker’s sense of loss and sadness. The speaker’s world has come to an end, and he feels as though his life has been irreversibly altered. It feels unjust for the world to continue ringing phones and barking dogs in the face of his loss.

The speaker’s projection of his sadness to his larger surroundings is demonstrated by the personification of the aeroplanes “moaning’ (line 5), as is the striking image of the words scrawled on the sky for all to see (line 6).

By comparing the loved one to the points on a compass, the speaker implies that he, the departed, gave direction and anchoring for him, in addition to being his complete world. The effect of the loss is heightened further by the explanation that ‘he’ was present for both the daily grind of work and the ‘Sunday rest’ periods (line 10). We see the richness of the connection as it offered significance to the many times of the day – and their implications – and through ‘my chat, my song’ (line 11), was one that thrived through both everyday discussion and companionship and moments of joy. Line 12 elicits an emotional response due to its simplicity and the usage of the colon to communicate its sad realisation.

The final verse references images frequently linked with passionate love: a starlit night sky, a bright moon, a romantic stroll along the beach, or picnics in the woods. These traditions are obliterated as the speaker demands that all of these symbols be stripped of their significance because ‘nothing now can ever come to any good’ (line 16).

Auden achieves a wonderful tone balance. The speaker’s sadness is palpable, as is his sorrow, uncertainty, and even rage or resentment over his loss. However, Auden never allows the tone to veer too far into sentimentality. As a result of sharing and comprehending the speaker’s sadness, the grief appears genuine and affecting.

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The poem’s flow is consistent, which is aided by the rhyme scheme. This is appropriate for the title’s ‘Blues’ musical composition. Take note of how the rhythm’s regularity breaks down in the final line: This echoes the speaker’s complete sadness at his beloved’s demise.

Auden permits the aeroplanes to ‘moan’: the onomatopoeia here helps us to notice the faint hum of a passing light aircraft. The opening stanza makes good use of sound references, establishing a contrast between everyday household noises and the demand for silence, which is interrupted by the solemn, ‘muffled drum’ (line 3) of the funeral procession.

Themes of Funeral Blues

Death
The devastating effects that the death of a loved one has on those left behind. He is heartbroken and cannot see the good in anything now that his loved one has died. He feels life is pointless without him.

Love
Auden’s poem contradicts the romantic notion of love lasting through eternity. In this poem, the loss of love is final.

Order and Disorder
When we lose a loved one who provided a sense of meaning and order, chaos can result. The speaker feels a sense of disorder as a result of losing a relationship that was such an integral part of his life.

TONE
The opening two stanzas have an authoritative and demanding tone; the speaker uses the imperative form with “stop all the clocks.” He insists on everyone paying their respects to the deceased.

The third stanza has a nostalgic tone, with the speaker reminiscing on the deceased’s life.

The final verse is harsh and unreasonable in tone: the speaker insists on the completion of ludicrous responsibilities. Similarly, the final verse is gloomy and caustic in tone. “nothing that happens now will ever be beneficial”

Additionally, intense grief, rage, bitterness, and sorrow are used.

The poem’s tone also reflects this melancholy and moving feeling. The references to mourning rites in the opening stanza emphasise the tone of grief. Stanza 2, particularly the simple statement ‘He is Dead,’ reaffirms this. Stanza 3’s lovely details build to a gloomy declaration conveying his shock and grief (‘I thought… incorrect.’). The final verse employs images evoking sorrow and emotional suffering (‘The stars… one’) as the speaker discusses how we might as well deconstruct and store the entire globe. The poem’s concluding line indicates the depth of his despair (‘For nothing… good’). The tone of the poem thus emphasises the speaker’s severe feelings of sadness and loss throughout. Thus, ‘Funeral Blues’ paints a realistic and emotional portrait of the immense pain and suffering that the death of a loved one may bring.

The poem expresses the speaker’s profound grief over the death of a loved one. It is an affecting and succinct account of his sentiments of loss and despair.

Diction
The poem’s diction confirms the speaker’s world appears to have come to an end. He want to ‘Stop’ the clocks and ‘Silence’ the telephone; to ‘Prevent’ the dog from barking (by providing it with a bone); and to ‘Silence’ the pianos. He conveys his despair for the future by the use of terms such as ‘throw out’ the stars, ‘pack up’ and ‘dismantle’ the moon and sun, and ‘pour away’ and ‘sweep up’. He also employs terms associated with death and mourning, such as ‘coffin’ and ‘mourners’, as well as ‘crêpe bows’ and ‘black cotton gloves’.

Imagery
The imagery in the first and second stanzas demonstrates the speaker’s desire to communicate his profound grief to the world. Not only does he specify fairly normal mourning measures, such as pausing clocks and utilising muffled drums during the funeral procession, he also requests that police officers wear ‘black cotton gloves’ and that the ‘public doves’ wear black bows around their necks. He describes his bond with his sweetheart as’my North, my South, my East, and West’ in the third stanza. The imagery in the last verse reveals the speaker’s feelings of hopelessness and lack of will to survive. He wishes to ‘pack up’ or ‘dismantle’ the entire universe, as he explains in the poignant (sad and moving) final words, ‘nothing now can ever be good.’

Conclusion

Thus,  this poem expresses loss and heartbreak. The speaker expresses his anguish and connects it to the world around him. Through the lens of loss, the references to ‘clocks’, ‘telephones’ (line 1), ‘dogs’ (line 2), and ‘pianos’ (line 3) investigate the mourner’s reaction to his immediate, domestic circumstances. The poem then expands the environment to include ‘aeroplanes’ (line 5), ‘doves’ (line 7), and ‘traffic policeman’ (line 8), before concluding with the global sphere of stars (line 13),’ moon’, ‘sun’ (line 14), ‘ocean’, and ‘wood’ (line 15). The third verse recounts their unique relationship and gives the speaker a detailed description of what the deceased man meant to him.

With the title ‘Funeral Blues,’ it is immediately evident what the poem’s theme will be. The term ‘blues’ is an effective one because it may refer to both a dismal mood and a sluggish, mournful musical work. When the terms ‘coffin’ and ‘mourners’ are spoken, the reader quickly understands the appeal for everything to come to a halt – time, noise, and music (line 4). The stern statement ‘He Is Dead’, which is to be inscribed on the sky for all to see, emphasises the speaker’s desire for the world to acknowledge his beloved’s demise.

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