Stop All the Clocks
For no reason that I can bring to a conscious level, I woke up one morning thinking about this W.H. Auden poem (and kept thinking about it every day for the past week):
W. H. Auden
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 for ever: 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.
No one in my life has died recently. Went to a meeting Saturday where we talked about death and loss, but I didn’t have anything from current inventory to share. But the experience of loss and death are part of my history, as they are with us all.
Looking at Auden’s poem, one thing especially strikes me: 1) He begins with the personal in Stanza 1, moves out to the larger world in Stanza 2, goes back to personal in Stanza 3, and goes to the much larger world of nature\the universe in Stanza 4. That is, in Stanza 1, clocks, the telephone, the dog, the pianos, are all things we might have in the house — the “muffled drum” and coffin, not so much. In Stanza 2, skywriting planes, public doves, and traffic policemen are part of the neighborhood, maybe part of the city, not part of the house. Stanza 3 is about the dead, loved person, “he,” and is quite personal.
Then, in the concluding Stanza 4, the speaker of the poems moves out of the home, the neighborhood, the city, and into the cosmos — the death is felt, he imagines, in the stars, moon, sun. Back to earth a bit, with the death causing him\us to “pour away the ocean,” to “sweep up the wood.” This move from personal to cosmic is very Shakespearean, very Late Renaissance — in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, for instance, Titania’s squabble with Oberon has caused crops to fail and “disasters in the sun.” The world and the universe is connected to the personal — everything corresponds to everything else. As Giordano Bruno wrote, “The world is a poem spoken by God, and God is an acutezze favolare” (a “witty speaker”).