Analysis of Funeral Blues by W. H. Auden

"Funeral Blues" is a poem written by W.H. Auden. The final version of the poem was first published in 1938 in the anthology The Year’s Poetry.

Even from the title, one can deduce the poem is an elegy. The content of the lines throughout the poem affirm it is, indeed, an elegy. There are four stanzas, each consisting of four lines; these are named quatrains. Many lines are written in iambic pentameter, a standard of elegies. Every stanza follows an AABB rhyme scheme. It is not altogether surprising to read such a poem from Auden, given it is not the only one he wrote of the variety.


Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,

The tone of the poem is immediately set as the speaker demonstrates mourning over the loss of a loved one from the first line. Just as time has stopped for the deceased, time has slowed to a stop for the speaker, unable to come to terms with the loss. The speaker (henceforth referred to as "he") shows signs of retreating within himself and cutting off communication. The silence experienced by the reader parallels the same silence sought out or felt by the speaker.

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

This line brings more silence. The silence is accompanied by cutting out the joys in life. It is indeed a time of loss and sorrow.

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

It is clear the speaker wants focus on the deceased for proper mourning. The silence continues to grow with each line. Even the sound of music for the deceased is described as "muffled." This can be meant in a literal and figurative sense. Literally, the sound emitted from the drum may not be loud and clear. Figuratively, it is an echo of how the speaker feels and perceives the world around him at this moment in time.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.

Here, the speaker goes more into figurative language. The airplanes are "moaning," as if expressing their own sadness over the person being grieved for. Everything surrounding him expresses the deep sorrow he feels. And anything that is not in keeping with his mourning is something he wishes to shut off. The line "Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’" is, most likely, figurative. It is an announcement to the world of the passing of the person. It is the news and reality of the person’s passing covering the sky and, as result, covering everything below it like a blanket. This loss and pain cannot be quieted, unlike the other mundane things the speaker his silenced through the course of the poem.

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

It may not be entirely clear what or who the "public doves" are. However, what is certain is that the speaker feels everything and everyone is (or should be) shrouded in sadness. It is not uncommon for perspective to shift after such a terrible loss that affects one’s life. He believes the deceased deserves the utmost respect and appropriate form of mourning. The grief is as inescapable as it is unable to be quieted.

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;

If the strong love the speaker felt toward the deceased was not clear until now, the reader simply cannot miss it at this point. The speaker is unquestionably and directly telling the reader the deceased person was everything to him. This is a loss of someone that affected every moment and aspect of the speaker’s life. It is completely understandable how this loss may feel insurmountable.

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

There is a timeless notion that love conquers all and lasts for eternity. The message the speaker is delivering based off his emotions is extremely pained. It is based on a reality that pains us all. Unfortunately, death cannot be escaped. And those who remain are left with the emptiness of the loss. We will one day lose the most beloved people in our lives, just as they will lose us.

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;

Everything that gives light and stands for life, radiance, and beauty is everything the speaker has shut out. All of these images are dark and full of despair, heavy with the emotions of the speaker.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The despair flows through to the very end of the poem. The speaker does not foresee a change, cannot even think of a foreseeable change. Just as the lamented person was everything for him in life, he/she overtakes everything after death. It is a very strong mourning the speaker personally experiences.

The poem tells, in great detail, about the suffering of the speaker after the loss of a loved one. The speaker of the poem goes on to express his lament by describing what he sees, hears (or does not hear), and what he thinks should be done to show mourning. It is a poem filled with intense sadness. It is such that the reader cannot escape it, just as the speaker cannot. This does an excellent job of drawing the reader in to truly experience such loss.

The obvious theme of the poem is death. Even in the last line of the third stanza, the speaker directly makes sure the reader takes note of death’s inevitability. The poem in its entirety forces the reader to understand the terrible pain of losing someone close and important to one’s life. This extends into other notions of coping with loss and how relationships (and that tie being broken) affect a person’s life. Though are other themes contained in the poem, death is the main and overarching theme.