No big surprise here—death is easily the most obvious theme in "Aubade." The speaker can't shake that gloomy feeling that with each passing minute, hour, and day he is hurtling closer and closer to his own demise. It's the kind of realization that tends to put a damper on things. So, it makes sense that "Aubade" doesn't have a single rainbow or butterfly to brighten things up. In fact, even the Sun is absent. Dreary indeed.
For Larkin, death is present in everything. He could find death and darkness in Hanson's "MMMBop". In "Aubade," death is lurking everywhere (even in the sunrise), making life nearly intolerable. It's an ever present, inescapable force influencing every aspect of life.
Larkin's "Aubade" isn't as gloomy and death-obsessed as it appears. The fact that day does break, regardless of how gloomy, is life-affirming. Mini high five?
Sure, "Aubade" has lots to do with death. But there's other stuff going on too. Is it just us, or does it seem like maybe a fear of death isn't this speaker's only problem? It seems like this guy isn't crazy about his job. He seems like he might be a bit of a loner. And we get the sense that he's not sipping the occasional margarita—more like he's flirting with a drinking problem. Beyond his obvious fear of death, there is also a general dissatisfaction with life. Is this guy fun, or what?
In "Aubade," the speaker's dissatisfaction with his life leads to his obsession with death. If he had more to live for, he'd spend more time in the moment and less time worrying about the inevitable future. Because the speaker feels unfulfilled by his life, though, death fills the void. On the bright side: at least it's not a void?
The speaker's obsession with death prevents him from finding fulfillment in life. If the speaker could find a way to ignore "the sure extinction that we travel to," he might be able to find some joy and satisfaction in life. (That's a toughy to ignore, though.)
"Aubade"'s speaker seems like kind of a loner. If you woke up at 4AM and couldn't go back to sleep, would you just stare into the abyss or would you do something—text, tweet, update your Facebook page, connect with someone by any means necessary? This guy doesn't do that. True, the poem was written in the 1970s, so lots of those options weren't invented yet, but you get the feeling that, even if they were available, he'd still just be sitting there staring at the dark windows. The speaker is alone, isolated with his anxiety and fear of death—definitely a bad night.
"Aubade" is as much about feelings of isolation in life as it is about fear and dread of death. The speaker longs for connection. This poem argues that it is only through connection with others that the knowledge of approaching death can be endured. Can a speaker get a Facebook friend?
The speaker's physical and emotional isolation functions in the poem as an extended metaphor for death—the ultimate isolation. Bad times.
Death is scary. So it makes sense that fear comes up quite a bit in Larkin's "Aubade." What's worse, this isn't the kind of fear that goes away when you turn on the lights and see that what you thought was a monster was just your robe on the back of your desk chair. Nope. This kind of fear just sits there, impossible to ignore, making everything miserable. (Note: Just for the record, Shmoop wouldn't be afraid of a silly little robe—we just, uh, heard about that happening from this guy we know.)
Saddest Chew ever: the speaker's inability to cope with his fear of death makes it impossible for him to enjoy his life.
It isn't death that the speaker is afraid of, it's the unpredictability of life that he fears. (We bet you didn't see that one coming.)
Even though our speaker directly address religion only briefly in "Aubade," the entire poem is kind of a rejection of religion and religion's ideas about death. It seems pretty safe to say that the speaker in this poem won't be showing up at his local Sunday service or singing in the choir. Religion doesn't hold any comfort for this guy, and it seems like he harbors some contempt for the institution as a whole.
In "Aubade," the poem's speaker dismisses religion as a means to deal with the inevitability of death. He doesn't believe in God or an afterlife, and he is one sad puppy. This fact actually makes a strong argument for the effectiveness of religion in dealing with the complexity and fear of death.
By having a speaker that dismisses religion and all other philosophical means of coping with death, Larkin makes the fear of death feel even stronger and more immediate. Larkin chose to have the speaker mock religion simply to heighten the poem's sense of desperation and isolation. Mission: accomplished.