Study Guide

Funeral Blues Themes

By W. H. Auden

  • Death

    "Funeral Blues" pretty much puts it all out there in the title: this is a poem about death. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad death. After the death of his loved one, the speaker has no joy or hope. He is completely and utterly devastated. There's no silver living in this poem, no happy endings, no smiles or songs. There's only the notion that death is the pits, and not just for the dead—for the living, too.

    Questions About Death

    1. Do we know exactly what the relationship was between the speaker and the dead man? 
    2. Is there a connection between the rhymes and the theme of death in the poem? What do you think it might be?
    3. Does the speaker exaggerate his love for the dead man so much that it's unbelievable? Or does his hyperbole make the poem even more meaningful? 
    4. Why does the speaker issue so many commands? What is the relationship between this commanding speech and death? 
    5. Do you see any hope in this poem? Is the speaker condemned to a sort of death-in-life after the death of his loved one?

    Chew on This

    There is no hope at all in "Funeral Blues." As the speaker says, "nothing now can ever come to any good."

    The very fact that the poem "Funeral Blues" exists provides hope. Art has been made in the wake of the man's death. Poetry is a kind of hope.

  • Language and Communication

    The speaker spends a whole lot of time in "Funeral Blues" issuing commands to an unnamed audience. He may be actually giving a eulogy at a funeral, or he may be talking to himself and expressing his desires. Either way, communication plays an important role in this poem, because we have all kinds of it here—private telephone communication, public skywriting, even traffic directing. "Funeral Blues" raises all kinds of questions about private and public speech, and private and public mourning. Does mourning have to be a public act? This speaker seems to think so.

    Questions About Language and Communication

    1. Do you think that this poem is actually meant to be read at a funeral? Or does it just describe the feelings of a man whose beloved has died?
    2. Why is it so important to the speaker for the public to acknowledge the death of his loved one? 
    3. Is it possible for the speaker to mourn privately? Or is mourning always a public act?
    4. Do you think that the poem itself is a form of communication?

    Chew on This

    Mourning is a public act. The only way for the speaker to adequately express his grief is for him to tell the world about his pain.

    Mourning should be a private act. The speaker should stop trying to get the world to feel his pain.

  • Man and the Natural World

    The speaker of "Funeral Blues" wants us to put out the stars and dismantle the sun. These hyperbolic statements and the ones that follow are all about shutting down the natural world in order to demonstrate this poor guy's grief. It seems like the speaker knows that his commands are hyperbolic, exaggerated, and impossible, but thinks that nothing smaller than nature itself can communicate his despair accurately.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Why does the speaker invoke the stars, the moon, and the sun? Isn't he being a bit self-centered? 
    2. Why is the dog with the juicy bone in the poem? Is the dog part of nature, too? 
    3. Is the speaker's desire to "put out" the stars (and nature) over-the-top? Or is this how he really feels? 
    4. What's up with nature anyway? Why does the speaker target it in the last stanza? Why doesn't he go after the clocks and telephones again?

    Chew on This

    Nature is universal. The speaker issues his commands against nature so that everyone can understand his pain.

    The speaker doesn't want nature to "end" for everyone. He just doesn't want to be reminded of the beautiful and romantic world out there while he's grieving.