A dead dude, mourners, a funeral, and a sad speaker? Sounds like an elegy to Shmoop. Elegies can take lots of different shapes and forms, since there are no rhyming or metrical rules for an elegy. But the great thing about "Funeral Blues" is that it's written in what are called elegiac stanzas…more or less.
An elegiac stanza is a quatrain written in iambic pentameter, usually with the rhyme scheme ABAB. Here's where the "more or less" comes in. "Funeral Blues" is written in quatrains, and it does make use of iambic pentameter, but it's highly irregular in its meter, with extra syllables here and wonky feet there. And the rhyme scheme is tweaked a bit, too: AABB instead of ABAB. Auden is using heroic couplets instead of alternating rhymes.
Still, the shoe fits, if a bit awkwardly.
Shakin' Up the Blues
Now, for the nitty-gritty stuff. Let's look at some of the messier moments, when "Funeral Blues" shakes up the form and lets its freak flag fly.
Take a look at line 1.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Pretty perfect iambic pentameter, wouldn't you say? But what about the next line?
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Shmoop counts twelve syllables, which means we're likely dealing with a line of iambic hexameter—that's six iambs all in a row. Auden shakes things up, right at the beginning of the poem to let us know this won't be your typical elegy.
Then line 3 goes
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Auden drops in a trochee in the place of an iamb in the first foot of the line. Then, just after that, he drops in an anapest, which accounts for the extra syllable in the line.
And finally, the last line of the stanza brings us back to the wonderful world of regular old iambic pentameter:
Bring out the coffin let the mourners come.
Phew. Thank goodness were back to some normalcy.
Why So Wonky?
But of course that raises the question: why does Auden do all this metrical variation in the first place? To be frank, there are a lot of plausible theories. Auden was known for being a virtuoso of form, so hey, maybe he's just having a bit of fun. But we think it's more likely that each choice is a deliberate one.
Take that trochee that starts off line 3. It sure draws a lot of attention to the word "silence." It practically rings in your ears. And then, there's that super lengthy line 2. Coming after "stop all the clocks," it sure slows down time a bit, and in a way, it fulfills the command that came in the previous line. He's clever, that Auden, so what some may write off as sloppiness, laziness, or even just quirky variations, are more likely deliberate choices.