WH Auden, “Funeral Blues”
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.
Here’s a lovely reading of the poem from the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral”:
I think the third stanza is perhaps the saddest verse ever.
But how the poem DOES it- what’s interesting to me is how it combines rhyming couplets (AABB), which might come off like “doggerel” or “sing-song” but with long lines (usually 11 syllables), so there’s this drawn-out almost breathlessness at the end of the line. It feels like a very controlled sob or wail.
Plus I notice the transition from the start—all about public displays of mourning, the sort they had when Winston Churchill died—all very big and sedate, and then the last two stanzas are so utterly personal and almost colloquial in their expression. The diction/wording gets more “ordinary” to express that in truth, though the anguish is very big, the speaker knows that no one else would consider this some national occasion. “He is all to me,” however, and isn’t that the central power of grief—I have lost everything when I lost him—even if no one else noticed.
And the last line echoes with the enormity of that—it’s so final and so nihilistic. There’s no metaphor of mourning there as there is in the first two stanzas. This is stark and plain LOSS.
The first two stanzas with their eloquent and high-flown diction and imagery—see how that distills into the plain-spokenness of the personal stanzas at the end. Amazing.
Another poem is here: AE Housman’s much simpler “Land of Lost Content.”