Study Guide

Aubade Quotes

  • Death

    […] I see what's really always there:
    Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
    Making all thought impossible but how
    And where and when I shall myself die. (4-7)

    Death comes up right from the get-go in this one. This first mention of death gives us some clues that should prepare us to see death come up throughout the poem. Take a look at the word choices Larkin makes when referring to death. Death is "always there." Death is "unresting." Death makes thinking about anything else "impossible." We don't get the sense that a subject change is in the cards any time soon. We shouldn't be surprised to see death hanging out throughout the whole poem. Death is like that guy that shows up early for the party and then stays too late. You know who you are.

    Arid interrogation: yet the dread
    Of dying, and being dead,
    Flashes afresh to hold and horrify. (8-10)

    Our speaker knows that all these questions about death—the how and where and when—are nothing new, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Each time he thinks about it, he gets freaked out all over again. The fact that the speaker acknowledges that the questions are nothing new gives his argument a little more strength. We can't just remind him that death is part of life and something that we all must come to terms with. He knows that. He tells us so. His point is that logically death just isn't something that we can come to terms with.

    The mind blanks at the glare […]
    at the total emptiness of for ever,
    The sure extinction that we travel to
    And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
    Not to be anywhere,
    And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true. (11, 16-20)

    Here we start to get a sense of what it is about being dead that really bothers the speaker. It's the whole nothingness of it: "Not to be here, / Not to be anywhere." The repetition of the word "nothing" in line 20 emphasizes the point. There's nothing more terrible and true than the fact that we are going to die.

    And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
    A small unfocused blur, a standing chill […]
    Most things may never happen: this one will,
    And realisation of it rages out
    In furnace-fear (31-32, 34-36)

    These lines reinforce the inescapability of death. It also reinforces the idea that the knowledge of our own death is unpleasant. It feels bad. Again, the word choice does the work. Consider the following list of words and phrases from lines 31-36:

    on the edge
    unfocused
    blur
    chill
    rage
    fear

    What do all these words have in common? Yup. You got it. Negative, negative, negative—each of these words evokes unpleasant feelings. An accident? Shmoop thinks not.

    Death is no different whined at then withstood. (40)

    The speaker acknowledges a common strategy for how do deal with death. There are those that say we should be brave in the face of death, that we should—as the Brits in Larkin's native England like to saykeep a stiff upper lip. Well, that's all good and well. Larkin knows all about that idea. Here again, he's saying it doesn't matter what you do. Be as brave as you want. You're still going to die. Death treats cowards and heroes the same.

    It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
    Have always known, know that we can't escape,
    Yet can't accept (42-44)

    Geez, Phil. We get it. We can't escape death. We know. If it seems like this is the same stuff Phil has been telling us since the beginning of the poem, that's because it is. The fact that we don't really get any answers or make any progress in this poem is mirrored in line 44: we just can't accept that we are going to die and become nothing. We can keep thinking about it and talking about it, but we don't really get anywhere. It just doesn't get any easier to deal with death. Even here at the end of the poem, the speaker is still struggling.

  • Dissatisfaction

    I work all day, and get half-drunk at night. (1)

    This doesn't sound like the description of a very fulfilling life, does it? Work and drink are not in and of themselves symbols of dissatisfaction. But the speaker doesn't say he works hard and plays hard. There is no mention of what the work is. It seems it isn't worth mentioning. And there is no mention of coworkers. We don't get the sense that the speaker is hanging out with his pals after work having a pint. This is another kind of drinking—more anti-social and problematic. It just sounds like a never-ending cycle of nondescript work and drunkenness.

    --The good not done, the love not given, time
    Torn off unused-- (12-13)

    This doesn't sound like a man that has lived a very fulfilling life. The speaker states that these missed opportunities and wasted times are not in fact his primary concerns. These are not the things that cause his mind to blank. But the mere fact that the speaker mentions them gives them significance. These may not be what he considers the primary causes of his angst, but they are there nonetheless and add to the general sense of dissatisfaction that runs throughout the poem.

    Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
    In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
    Intricate rented world begins to rouse. (45-47)

    Telephones are crouching like animals getting ready to attack. The world is uncaring and complicated and it isn't even really ours—it's rented (like that funky tuxedo you wore to the formal last spring that had somebody's old tissue in the pocket—not cool). This view of the world suggests the speaker has not led a very fulfilling life. His fear and obsession with death won't let him feel satisfied.

  • Isolation

    Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare. (2)

    The isolation starts early and sticks around. The poem's second line places the speaker alone in his room in the wee hours in the "soundless dark." This description of the dark as "soundless" is important. There isn't a taxicab horn, a dog barking in the distance, the sound of crickets—nothin'. "Soundless" makes the dark and the isolation feel more intense.

    That this is what we fear--no sight, no sound,
    No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
    Nothing to love or link with. (27-29)

    Larkin ups the isolation level in these lines. Before, it was just the soundless dark. That was pretty bad. But now, as the speaker contemplates death, we have all the senses muted. It's in these lines that Larkin addresses the speaker's sense of isolation most directly: "nothing to love or link with." It's this connection that our speaker longs for in life and that will be impossible in death. It's the loss even the possibility of this connection that he dreads most.

    And realisation of it rages out
    In furnace-fear when we are caught without
    People or drink. (35-37)

    When is the realization of approaching death the worst? When is it the hardest to deal with? We'll tell you when: it's when no one is around. Contact with other people (and, apparently, booze) helps to keep the fear of death at bay. Our speaker doesn't seem to have many friends, so that would explain his habit of getting "half-drunk at night." This guy really needs a Facebook account.

    Postmen like doctors go from house to house. (50)

    The poem's last line is linked to the theme of isolation. When we are isolated, cut off from human contact, we feel closest to death: isolation is the enemy, connection is the remedy. We know what you're thinking: "That makes sense, Shmoop, but what's that got to do with postmen and doctors?" Well, you're in luck because Shmoop is going to tell you. Actually, we're not. We bet you can figure it out for yourself.

    Just think about it. In a basic sense, what do doctors try to do? They try to keep us healthy. They try to keep us alive. What do postmen do? They get chased by dogs, sure, but that's not the point. They deliver mail. They deliver letters—letters from other people, letters that make us feel loved and connected. See the connection? We bet you do.

  • Fear

    […] the dread
    Of dying, and being dead,
    Flashes afresh to hold and horrify. (8-10)

    Make no mistake, this speaker is spooked by death. Larkin's word choice in these lines makes the speaker's fear feel very immediate. We can almost feel it and participate in the fear. The flashing dread feels sudden, surprising scary, almost like a flash of lightning. Throw in the word "horrify" and we start to think about all those things that scare us. Readers might even start flashing to ideas of their own deaths or things that horrify them. (See what we did there?)

    This is a special way of being afraid
    No trick dispels. (21-22)

    This fear of death isn't kids' stuff. It doesn't go away when the lights come on. The speaker tells us that he can't reason it away or fight it with religion or philosophy. This is an important moment in the poem because, in a sense, it predicts what the reader might be thinking: Hey, you should try [insert your preferred method of dealing with the finality of death]. The speaker isn't having it. None of those "tricks" work for him. He's still afraid.

    […] this is what we fear--no sight, no sound,
    No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
    Nothing to love or link with. (27-29)

    The speaker gets even more specific about his fears here. It's more than just death. It's the quality of being dead. The speaker can't stand the idea of the nothingness he believes death brings—no senses, no human contact or connection. It is the idea of nothingness that the speaker fears most. Consider how the speaker describes the darkness when he first wakes up: "Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare." Does this description remind you of anything? There's no sound. It's dark, so no sight. Feels a bit like the speaker's own description of death, doesn't it? No wonder this guy is freaked out.

  • Religion

    […] the total emptiness of for ever,
    The sure extinction that we all travel to
    And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
    Not to be anywhere,
    And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true. (16-20)

    This is definitely not the Sunday school notion of death. Many religions offer the idea of a life after death, often one that makes earthly life seem… well, earthly. Even though the speaker doesn't mention religion directly here, it's pretty clear that he doesn't believe that there is someplace like heaven or an afterlife.

    No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
    That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
    Created to pretend we never die. (22-24)

    Do you get the feeling that the speaker doesn't think much of religion? Actually, it sounds like the speaker has nothing but contempt for religion. Larkin's word choice and the images he uses make it seem this way.

    Religion is described as one of the "tricks" people use to try to ease their fear of death. What comes to mind when you hear the word "trick"? We think of a card trick, or being tricked by someone, or trick-or-treat (mmm, trick-or-treat). While card tricks are neat, and it's always fun to get candy, the word "trick" doesn't really command any kind of awe or respect. It's kind of a trivial thing that is designed to fool someone—to make someone believe something that isn't true. If the speaker is categorizing religion as a mere trick, that's a pretty good indication that he doesn't think it's a very important or useful institution.

    Things don't get any more respectful in the next line. The speaker describes religion as an old, moth-eaten, blanket. It might have looked pretty once, but it certainly isn't doing anyone any good now. Ouch.

    […] this is what we fear--no sight, no sound,
    No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
    Nothing to love or link with,
    The anaesthetic from which none come round. (27-30)

    Consider this description of death. The word "nothing" just about sums it up. Now, think about the descriptions of death and what happens when we die that are associated with many organized western religions. We've got angels and pillow-y clouds and harps and eternal peace and joy—totally different than Larkin's description. This stark contrast emphasizes the distance between the speaker's views of death and the views of organized religion.