Study Guide

Aubade Themes

By Philip Larkin

  • Death

    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.

    Questions About Death

    1. What connections can you make between the poem's title and its central theme? Why do you suppose Larkin chose to title a poem about death, "Aubade?"
    2. Larkin broke "Aubade" into five, ten-line stanzas. Which stanza feels the darkest to you and why? Which stanza captures the speaker's dread of death the best? Why do you think so? Are there any stanzas that offer a glimmer of comfort for the speaker (and the reader) or is it just death, death, death?
    3. In "Aubade," darkness is often used to represent death. What happens when Larkin talks about light, though? Does that feeling of pending doom disappear? Do we get warm fuzzy feelings? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    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?

  • Dissatisfaction

    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?

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. What kind of job do you imagine this speaker has? Why?
    2. What lines, phrases, or words give you a sense of the speaker's overall dissatisfaction with life? What do you think is the cause of this dissatisfaction? Do you think his perception of death would be different if he felt more satisfaction in his life? Why or why not?
    3. Imagine you have to buy a birthday present for the speaker of this poem. What do you get for this guy? What's the perfect gift for an antisocial, death-obsessed, functional alcoholic?
      [Note: liquor is not an option.]

    Chew on This

    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.)

  • Isolation

    "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.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. If you were in the speaker's situation, what would you do to feel less isolated, more connected with your fellow man? Remember, we're talking pre-internet here. You'll have to dig a little deeper.
    2. How would this poem be different if the speaker mentioned a friend or a lover? How would the poem be different if someone else was actually in the room with the speaker?
    3. Is there a connection between the speaker's physical isolation, alone in his room late at night, and the poem's primary theme of death? If so, what's the link?

    Chew on This

    "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.

  • Fear

    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.)

    Questions About Fear

    1. The speaker tells us that he is afraid of death and it certainly sounds like he is. Based on the information in the poem, is the speaker afraid of anything else? If so, what else is he afraid of and why does it scare him?
    2. How does the speaker deal with his fear of death? Does he handle his fear well? What advice would you give this guy to help him cope a little better?
    3. Why do you think this speaker's fear of death got so out of control? Was he always like this? Are childhood fears different from the fears of adults? If so, how? What were you most afraid of when you were a kid? What are you scared of now? Do any of your childhood fears still exist? If so, why do you think some fears go away as we get older and others don't? Is this the longest question you've had to answer? Do you fear that you'll die before you can answer it completely?

    Chew on This

    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.)

  • Religion

    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.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Larkin addresses religion directly in the poem's third stanza. Does the poem deal with religion and religious ideas about death indirectly anywhere else in the poem? Where and how?
    2. Did you have a positive or a negative reaction to the third stanza? What caused you to react the way you did? Would the poem be changed in a significant way if the third stanza were omitted? Why or why not?
    3. Play devil's advocate for a minute: tell Larkin why he's wrong about religion and its ability to offer people comfort regarding death's inevitability.

    Chew on This

    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.