Study Guide

Funeral Blues Quotes

By W. H. Auden

  • Death

    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. (4)

    Until this moment, the speaker has been making lots of commanding statements. This line introduces the beloved's death into the poem. Now we know why he's been calling for quiet, and we start to understand our guy a bit better.

    Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
    Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead. (5-6)

    Here's the thing about death. People usually don't skywrite about it. Death and mourning are personal, and usually limited to a relatively small group of people. But the speaker's grief feels so huge, he wants everyone to pay attention.

    I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong. (12)

    The speaker's thoughts about life and love have been completely overturned by the man's death. He realizes that nothing, not even love, can withstand time. Death doesn't just snuff out life—it snuffs out love, too.

    The stars are not wanted now: put out every one,
    Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
    Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
    For nothing now can ever come to any good. (13-16)

    The speaker's grief is so intense that he doesn't want any reminders of beauty in the world. He doesn't want to see the stars, the moon, the sun, the ocean, or the forests. That's asking a lot, to be sure, but we can understand where he's coming from. Clearly he's in the Depression Stage of grief. But hey, the next step is acceptance, so maybe there is a bit of hope.

  • Language and Communication

    Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
    Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. (1-4)

    The speaker wants all communication to cease, or at least quiet down in the wake of his beloved's death. He doesn't want any noise, not even the noise of the private communication between two people on the telephone. Only silence can allow for his mourning. So…then why's he writing this poem?

    Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
    Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead. (5-6)

    Skywriting. Now that's communication. The speaker wants the whole world to hear about and acknowledge the death of his beloved. He wants it written on the sky for all to see. In these lines, the speaker desires a public recognition of the man's death.

    Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
    Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves. (7-8)

    These images are examples of nonverbal communication of grief—symbols, to be precise. The black gloves, the crepe bows, are signs of mourning that he wants others to wear.

    My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song (11)

    The speaker switches back to talking about the private sphere. His beloved meant everything to him. He says that he actually formed the speaker's communication itself—his talk, his song.

  • Man and the Natural World

    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, (2)

    Here the speaker wants quiet not just from the bustle of the city, but from the animal world, too. He wants his beloved's death to be acknowledged by everyone—even the dogs.

    Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves, (7)

    He even wants the pigeons to acknowledge his loss. He may be going a bit overboard here, but his grief is so intense that we can't really blame him.

    The stars are not wanted now: put out every one,
    Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
    Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
    For nothing now can ever come to any good. (13-16)

    The speaker wants the world to be void of beauty, since this is how he feels inside. By projecting his grief onto the natural world, he's magnifying it, making it bigger than it really is.