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Relevant backgroundSummary ThemesStyle | 

Funeral Blues
W.H. Auden [1907-1973]

Relevant Background

  • Wystan Hugh Auden was born in 1907 in England, though he became an American citizen in 1946.
  • W.H. Auden was educated at good schools in England and at Oxford University.
  • He became a teacher and then a lecturer in England and America.
  • W.H. Auden was a homosexual, though he could not reveal the fact publicly.
  • The poem ‘Funeral Blues’ is a lament for a friend. ‘Blues’ is an American word for a sad song.
  • The poem was first published as one of ‘Twelve Songs’.
  • When Auden wrote this poem, it was common for funerals to be very formal. Mourners would wear black ties or bow-ties, made of crepe, a thin material. White doves [pigeons] would be released at the funeral of an important public figure. A formation of aeroplanes might pass over-head at a president’s funeral.
  • Instead of traffic lights, traffic policemen with white gloves regulated the traffic at major junctions.

Summary

  • In the first stanza, Auden wants everything normal to stop while the funeral of his friend is taking place.
  • At first, he orders complete silence.
  • The poet is so sad he wants to hush the sound of clocks because of the death of his friend.
  • He doesn’t want to hear telephones ringing, the barking of dogs or music—including the sound of pianos.
  • As a mark of respect to his dead friend, he desires funeral drums to beat with a low sound.
  • In the second stanza, Auden calls for aeroplanes to circle overhead to mark the death of his friend. The planes would fly in formation with a message for all to see. He would like the planes to notify everybody about the death of his dear friend. The sound of the planes would be like a mourning sound.
  • Auden would like white doves with black bows to be released in honour of his friend.
  • He grief is so great that he would like the traffic police to wear black gloves instead of the normal white gloves they use to direct traffic.
  • The third stanza contains an outpouring of emotions.
  • Auden states his friend meant everything to him.
  • He was his compass or guide. He was his best supporter during the working week. He was his companion on Sunday, his rest day.
  • Auden felt inseparable from his friend. He was there in his thoughts at every noon, at midnight, in his conversations. At key times everyday he saw or thought about him. Auden’s friend was the song in his soul.
  • Auden believed he would always have his friend, but he was wrong.
  • In the fourth stanza, Auden shows us how devastated he feels without his friend.
  • As in the first stanza, he wants to cancel or abolish certain things because of his grief.
  • He wants to destroy the universe: the stars, moon and sun.
  • Auden wants to get rid of the oceans and forests of the earth.
  • There is no point in living without his friend. The world cannot continue.

Themes

  • Love The poet loved his friend so much that life is pointless without him. He would stop all sounds and destroy the universe if he could. The friend was central to everything the poet did in his life. Use the summary points above from paragraph three to develop this theme.
  • Grief The poet feels pain and desperation at the unexpected death of his friend. He is so upset that he wants to end all life as he knows it. Auden mentions a number of impossible actions to show how intense his grief is. Use the points about the first and fourth stanzas in the summary above to develop this theme.

Style

  • Form The poem is a lyric in four stanzas of four lines each. The lines have an even rhythm, with four beats per line. The poem has an even structure.
  • Rhyme In each stanza, the lines one and two rhyme and lines three and four rhyme e.g. ‘west’ and ‘rest’ along with ‘song’ and ‘wrong’ in stanza three.
    Language The language or diction is mainly everyday English in straight-forward statements or orders. The first line is a typical example of this. Auden uses a lot of verbs but very few adjectives.
    Full Stops and Commas Auden places a full stop to mark the completion of each stanza. He uses commas in a clear way to string orders or statements together. He also uses colons to separate connecting sentences as in line thirteen.
  • Comparison See hyperbole and metaphors below.
  • Imagery At the start of the poem there are a number of clear images to show grief. The most interesting image is in line two. The poet is so emotional that he wants even dogs to stop enjoying themselves as mark of respect for his dead friend. The image of a ‘juicy bone’ stands for joy in a dog’s life. The first and second stanzas contain many images of a funeral. Stanza three contains images that show the importance to Auden of his friend. See hyperbole and metaphors below.
  • Metaphor In the third stanza, the poet states his dead friend was his compass and that he was own personal clock. This explains why he wanted to stop all the clocks in stanza one. These metaphors show love. In the fourth stanza the poet imagines sweeping up the forests of the world or taking the sun apart, piece by piece. These metaphors show grief.
  • Personification Auden personifies aeroplanes by imagining their engines moaning in grief overhead.
  • Mood The mood is one of deep sadness. As the summary above shows, all the statements and imagery in the poem express the pain of deep grief. In the first three stanzas, the mood is dominated by the poet’s unbearable pain of loss. The poet is also revealing his intense love for his friend. In the final stanza, there is a mood of absolute despair. The final line of the poem sums up the poet’s helpless sorrow.
    Hyperbole [Exaggeration] Auden uses hyperbole to get across his love for his friend in stanza three. The claims in stanza three are impossible, but they communicate deep love. In stanza four Auden uses impossible actions to get across his terrible sadness. It is impossible to pack up the moon or pour away the oceans etc.
  • Tone The poem has a tone of unbearable grief throughout. The short orders in the opening stanza create a feeling of urgency in the poet’s voice. The same comments that apply to mood above also apply in this poem to tone.
  • Repetition Images of time from the first stanza are echoed in the third stanza. There are many sound repetitions in the poem. Note how ‘moon’ echoes ‘mourners’ and ‘moaning’. The rhyme in the first two lines of stanza four is the same rhyme sound as the first two lines of the poem.
  • Assonance [similar vowel sound repetition] Note the frequent ‘oo’ and ‘ou’ sounds in various words of the poem. These sounds create the effect of a crying voice. Listen to the repeated ‘u’ sounds in ‘muffled drum’. Note the three repeated ‘o’ sounds in line 12 etc.
  • Consonance [similar consonant sound repetition] Note the amount of words with a ‘n’ sound or that end in ‘n’ in the last stanza. This creates a mourning music.
  • Alliteration [repetition of consonant sounds at the start of nearby words] Note the frequent use of words beginning with ‘m’ between lines three and six to emphasise moaning and mourning. Note the ‘l’ in ‘love’ and ‘last’ in line twelve. Find more examples yourself, starting with the last line.
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