Aubade Themes (William Empson)

William Empson

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

It has been said of Empson’s poetry that it provides the reader with the sensation of feeling sure that the poem is good, both aesthetically and intellectually, without the reader quite knowing what it means. This is not so severely the case with “Aubade,” which could be described as being only occasionally, only seemingly, meaningless. At the most obvious level, it is what it says it is: an aubade, a love song on the necessity of the loved one to steal home, not because the night is over, but because everyone’s sleep has been disturbed by an earthquake which may also have disturbed the unsuspecting husband who may notice the absence of his wife. Lovers in aubades usually complain about the intrusion of the light; in this case, a much more unusual and more destructive aspect of nature has intruded on the bliss of the lovers.

As is always the case, the lovers are reluctant to part; they are made aware of the facts of life, however, and are sufficiently cautious not to flaunt them. If they are to continue their affair, they must be careful—and that is one of the meanings of the “heart of standing” line. They must not do anything too romantic, which seems to be the meaning of the first use of the line and, perhaps, the second one, where the necessity of providing a solid lie is recognized. The third time the line appears, it may suggest something of a variation on that idea: that they can do no more than keep still until they know the consequences of their conduct. When it appears in the criticism of their conduct, it may be a...

(The entire section is 637 words.)