I still remember that scene from ‘Four Weddings & A Funeral’, the absolutely scrumptious romcom, when the liveliest of the bunch of friends drops dead in the middle of a particularly uproarious scene, when a friend is getting married. At the memorial, his completely broken boyfriend recites this fabulous Auden sunset poem.
This elegy is suffused with grief, as the narrator almost pleads with the world to give cognizance to this incredibly momentous tragedy, instead of going on with its normalcies. It’s a deeply-felt poem, and the narrator’s increasing agitation makes him want to shake the world by making unreasonable demands of it. The last lines ask the impossible, that one should pack up the moon and dismantle the sun and put out the stars….but in that hyperbole lies the entirety of the poet’s anguish.
This heartfelt dirge is like a cut of a heart which seems to know no consolation.
“Funeral Blues” has an interesting history. It originally appeared as a song in a play Auden co-wrote with Christopher Isherwood called The Ascent of F6 – the play was an ironic statement on how “great men” are lionized after their deaths. The poem was then included in Auden’s poetry collection of 1936 titled Look, Stranger!. The poem was titled “Funeral Blues” in 1937, when it was published in Collected Poems. Here it was rewritten as a cabaret song to fit with the kind of burlesque revues popular in Berlin, and it was intended for Hedli Anderson in a piece by Benjamin Britten. Today, it is a popular poem recited in funerals.
“Funeral Blues (Stop All The Clocks)”
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.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
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;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
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.
See the poem recited in this excerpt from ‘Four Weddings & A Funeral’. You will not have a dry eye, I promise you.