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Although on a superficial reading, Wystan Hugh Auden's poem "Funeral Blues" appears to be an elegy mourning the death of someone important to the poet, in fact, it is not an elegy but a satire, simultaneously critiquing the way society can overreact to the death of a celebrity and the way the genre of the elegy itself is prone to hyperbole. It relies primarily on a technique known as the reductio ad absurdum.
The poem was originally written in 1936 as part of a play, The Ascent of F6, by Auden and Christopher Isherwood but then revised and republished as a stand-alone poem in 1938. What makes the poem satiric is the way in which it shows the disconnect between the hyperbole surrounding the death of important people, whether celebrities or politicians, and ordinary lives.
Think of the opening verse. Would it really make sense to stop your clock if someone important died? Or would you still need your clock to function normally so you could make it to work or school on time? Will or should dogs stop barking? Does the death of a politician matter to a dog? In fact, do figures we have never actually met but only encountered in the media really matter to our daily lives?
What the final stanza suggests, in a spectacular crescendo to the reductio ad absurdum of the poem, is that the universe not only does not stop for the death of one person, but that it should not. No one individual is that universally important, and no one life more important than any other.
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