Analyze each stanza of "Funeral Blues" by Auden.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Auden's poem speaks to the idea of how death impacts those left behind.  It is a poem that is powerful in speaking to this element, a reality not initially considered when composing poetry of death.  The first stanza brings forth the initial shock of hearing of death.  There is a stoppage of normalcy, a sudden and fierce interruption of daily life.  The images in the first stanza speak to how there is a sudden and intense silencing of what is seen as daily life routines.  The stopping of "all the clocks" as well as the cutting off "the telephone" open the poem, helping to bring forth the interrupted nature of life when death of a loved one is approached.  The stanza continues with images of domesticity and then pivoting to what is seen as traditional preparations for death with the "drum" and the presence of the coffin. This continues in the second stanza with the standard and accepted presentation of what constitutes socially sanctioned forms of morning. Auden brings these images out to externalize the death experience as something that is understood in the social realm but not felt to the level as it is on the personal.  The policeman wearing "black cotton gloves" and the airplane flying in the sky to commemorate death are examples of how Auden illuminates the social and collective experience of death.  It is in the third and fourth stanzas where this gives way to the personal expression of how painful it is to be left behind by the force of death.  It is here where Auden speaks to the issue of death's impact most powerfully. No matter what one thinks of death, there is a certain forlornness in being left behind when a loved one passes on and this is the focal point of the last two stanzas.  Consider the images in the third stanza to bring this out, such as how the deceased represented everything to the speaker:

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

The shared emotional experience between the speaker and the deceased is one where there was a dependence, a submersion of identity in which one fully feels the connection with another.  Death severs this connection, rendering a fundamental shift in how life is perceived.  The force of this is in contrast with the domestic images of death, the funeral preparations, and the publicly sanctioned ideas of mourning that are in the previous stanzas.  The last line of the third stanza and the fourth stanza speak to the permanent sense of loss that death has on the living.  What is seen as traditionally good such as the luminosity of the stars, the presence of the moon, and the assembled nature of the sun are all absent, something that the speaker almost repudiates.  The relationship with the deceased that the speaker holds is one so powerful and so embedded with the sense of self that the absence that death causes renders all once good as useless and futile, as "nothing now can ever come to any good."

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