by W. H. Auden
Stanza 2 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
- Now things are getting really dramatic. As if stopping the clocks weren't enough, the speaker would like an airplane to write "He is Dead" in skywriting to commemorate his grief. If a funeral is a public acknowledgment of death, well then this is a super public acknowledgement of death. You don't get much more in-your-face than skywriting.
- While earlier he asked for quiet, and for people to cut off their telephones (which are private communication devices), he wants the whole world to know that "He Is Dead."
- And it's interesting here that the speaker doesn't provide a name. He could have written, for example, "John Is Dead." Or "Tommy Is Dead." But he leaves the dead man's name anonymous. Maybe he wants more privacy after all. Or maybe he assumes that everyone already knows "his" name. Either way, there's an interesting mixture between private and public acknowledgments of death going on here.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
- More public demands here, as the speaker wants even the "public doves"—we have a strong feeling that these are pigeons—to honor the dead man. And he wants even the traffic police to acknowledge him, too.
- Do these demands seem a little ridiculous to you? Does the speaker really want us to put bows on pigeons? It seems our man is getting hyperbolic again.
- And what's up with this dead guy? Why does the speaker care so much about how, where, and by whom he is mourned? Is the dead man the prime minister? A famous athlete? A poet? Why does he deserve to be publicly mourned? Let's keep reading.