W.H. Auden was born in York, in the United Kingdom. At Oxford, he became associated with many radical poets and authors. Many of his poems focus on social ills and concern with the workings of the mind.
The poem Funeral Blues is an expression of grief and heartache. The speaker links his overwhelming pain and emotion of despair to the world around him. The reference to ‘clocks,’ ‘telephone’ in line 1, ‘dog’ in line 2, and ‘pianos’ in line 3 examines the mourner’s reaction to his immediate, domestic surroundings through the lens of loss. The poem then expands the surroundings to the public arena with ‘aeroplanes,’ ‘doves,’ and ‘traffic policemen.’
The choice of the word ‘Blues’ is an effective one as this could refer to a depressed mood and also describes a slow, sad musical piece. The reader immediately understands the call for everything to cease time, noise, music as the reference is made to the ‘coffin’ and ‘mourners.’
The sadness of the speaker makes him feel no happiness in the future. Due to his despair, he has used hyperboles in the poem. 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 in him by everything he sees.
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Themes in ‘Funeral Blues’
We find the different themes of “Funeral Blues”: grief, love, death, mourning, and unhappiness. The death of the narrator’s loved one is like destroying the whole world for the speaker. They are dealing with their total and complete grief and lack of meaning to life now that this person is gone. Their loved ones meant everything to them, and they don’t know how to function without them in the world anymore.
This sense of total loss is in the last two stanzas, where Auden writes that the loved one was their everything, their “noon,” “midnight,” and “North, South, East, and West.” Then, Auden feels as if nothing on the entire earth should exist anymore if their loved one doesn’t exist, and that is where the desire to “pour out the ocean” and “sweep up the forests” comes from.
For Auden, the feeling of grief and devastation can occur after a loved one dies.
Death and Grief in ‘Funeral Blues’
In “Funeral Blues,” the first line, Auden writes: “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.” The line speaks to how death can seem to freeze time and cut people off from the world. When a beloved dies, a person might feel stagnant, like time isn’t moving. They might also feel completely isolated from the rest of the world, like they can’t communicate with anyone.
In the third stanza, Auden illustrates how when someone loves a person, that person can become their entire world. They can become their direction or the days of their week. Everything in their life can become organized around their beloved. As the speaker says:
“He was my North, my South, my East, and West
My working week and my Sunday rest.”
Auden also demonstrates how love can trick people into thinking that their love will somehow be the one love that will last forever. “I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong,” writes Auden’s speaker.
In the final stanza, Auden shows loss and grief tend to make people not care about anything. When a beloved dies, it can seem like all of the wonders and good things about the world die with them. The stars, the moon, the sun, and even the ocean can all go away because “nothing now can ever come to any good.”
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