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Funeral Blues

Funeral Blues

by W. H. Auden

Stanza 1 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

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! 
  • We don't know quite who our speaker is yet, but he sounds forceful, even angry.
  • And actually, we'll never find out too much about the speaker himself. For the sake of convenience, we'll refer to the speaker as a "he," but "he" could just as easily be "she." 
  • Whoever he 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. But we have to ask: what dogs? Whose dogs? To whom does the speaker address these lines (and the poem in general)? His noisy, dog-loving neighbor? Dog-lovers in general?
  • There's no one answer to these questions, but since the poem is called "Funeral Blues," it would be pretty legitimate to propose that the speaker is addressing an audience of mourners as a funeral. So this is a public poem, in a way—a poem meant for lots of people to hear. 
  • And finally, we noticed that these lines are similar in length. Line 1 has ten syllables, which is a sure as shootin' sign that we're reading iambic pentameter. Line 2, though, has twelve, and the rhythm is off in both lines, so Auden's keeping us on our toes for now.

Lines 3-4

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

  • Whatever's going on here, 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. Which fits the title. If this is a funeral we're dealing with, drums are much more solemn and fitting for the occasion than a joyful, jazzy piano. 
  • In the next line, he wants the coffin to be brought out and for mourners to come see it. Maybe the "muffled drum," then, is the sound of mourners walking, or of pallbearers carrying a coffin. Or maybe it is a 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 to you. Should we really stop the clocks just because someone has died? Probably not. But the speaker's using a bit of hyperbole or exaggeration to convey just how important all this mourning business is.
  • But of course when someone's being so over-the-top, it raises the question, how serious is the speaker? Is he exaggerating to create drama, or does he really feel this deeply about all this?
  • Line 3 has eleven syllables, and line 4 has ten. Shmoop thinks it's 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." A little AABB action for you. 
  • Here's a tip for you budding Shmoopoets: 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. Check out our "Form and Meter" section for more on that fancy term.
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