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 woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Auden’s tongue is firmly in his cheeks. It looks like he is mourning a politician’s death and inasmuch as politicians are VIP s ,there is public mourning of their deaths. We can have overhead planes sky-writing “He is dead”. We can have traffic cops wearing black cotton gloves .We can arrange for the public doves to wear crepe bows in their necks.
But surely we cannot have public doves. Doves cannot be expected to wear bows in their white necks for our VIP deaths. But why not. We can still have a few public doves for our VIP deaths, the very doves our VIP politicians release for peace for our ceremonies of innocence. Some doves are public but most are private.
But let us stop time. Come on, we can’t do that. We can of course stop all clocks. All clocks? At least the clocks around. On other clocks of the world we cannot do much. We can also cut off telephone wires so that all communication with the outside world is stopped.
How do we silence the dog barking your pantleg? Just give him a particularly juicy bone to chew on.
In the meantime let the planes hang around in the sky to skywrite a message – “he is dead” with their tailsmoke. Why such a cryptic message? Doesnt it sound a little too skylarky, such a cryptic message?
Public grief vs. Private grief
Now the public doves are in mourning. Public planes are writing cryptic messages in sky. Public clocks are stopped,public phone wires cut.
Private dogs have stopped barking, bribed by a juicy bone. What about private grief of the narrator?
The dead man was his North, East and West and South (NEWS). He was his working week,his holiday ,his Sunday.His talk, his song. He thought love would last for ever. He was wrong. Love did not last for ever.
We may have not have achieved much success with private doves, with dogs at pantlegs without bribing them a juicy bone and with all clocks and all calendars. Now we order that all stars be promptly put out. Of what use is the stars, now that our man is dead and gone. Let the moon be packed up and put away in the attic.Let the sun be dismantled. Let the sea be poured away somewhere in the outer space. Let the woods be swept away and they are of no use. Nothing now comes to any good.
Funeral blues are such. Private deaths turn public like doves turn public. Stars are sky’s eyes that have to be put out because they are no longer required in the firmament now that our man is dead. Private grief turns public. Let the coffin be brought out. Was that grief or somebody pulling your pantlegs? There is no irony where there is plain fun making.We all hate politicians but do not celbrate their deaths. Here a funeral grief is just “blues”, exaggerated quantification of how much we love the deceased.
The irony arises in the much larger picture of how much of our grief is so banal, so matter-of-factly expressed. Death is such a routine thing-expressed as a pathetic fallacy in which nature is coerced to act as mourner. The larger irony arises out of the stupidity of equating private loss to a cosmic event.