|by W. H. Auden|
"Funeral Blues" or "Stop all the clocks" is a poem by W. H. Auden. The poem first appeared in the 1936 play The Ascent of F6. Auden substantially rewrote the poem several years later as a cabaret song for the singer Hedli Anderson. Both versions were set to music by the composer Benjamin Britten. The second version was first published in 1938 and was titled "Funeral Blues" in Auden's 1940 Another Time. The poem experienced renewed popularity after being read in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994), which also led to increased attention on Auden's other work. It has since been cited as one of the most popular modern poems in the United Kingdom.
Writing and publication
The poem was five stanzas long when it first appeared in the 1936 verse play The Ascent of F6, written by Auden and Christopher Isherwood. It was written as a satiric poem of mourning for a political leader. In the play, the poem was read as a blues work, having been put to music by the composer Benjamin Britten. Hedli Anderson, an English singer, was a lead performer in The Ascent of F6.
Auden decided to re-write several poems for Anderson to perform as cabaret songs, including "Funeral Blues", and was working on them as early as 1937. The re-write was likely completed by the end of that year. He used Britten as composer again. Auden kept the first two stanzas from his initial version, but completely replaced the last three with two new stanzas, as those verses made enough references to the play that they could not be understood outside of it. They were also were relatively poor quality, according to the poet Joseph Warren Beach. This version was first published in the 1938 anthology Poems of To-Day, Third Series, by the English Association, and also appeared in the The Year's Poetry, 1938, compiled by Denys Kilham Roberts and Geoffrey Grigson (London, 1938), titled "Blues". Auden then included it in his book Another Time (Random House, 1940) as one of four poems headed "Four Cabaret Songs for Miss Hedli Anderson"; the poem itself was titled "Funeral Blues". The poem appeared in Auden's 1945 Collected Poetry as Song No. XXX, and was similarly untitled in the 1950 and 1966 editions.
Britten wrote a setting of the poem for chorus and instrumental group as part of his incidental music for the first production of The Ascent of F6 in 1937, and later arranged it for solo voice and piano in a collection of settings of Auden poems under the title Cabaret Songs.
The professor Seamus Perry notes similarities between Auden's re-write and the poems of Cole Porter, which Perry considers "ingenious" and "witty". He also feels that the poem is not as "light" as Porter's work or its cabaret origins would suggest. According to Perry, the poem shows that "often the true immensity of love is learned through realising the enormity of its absence", specifically citing the line "I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong". The final two lines of the poem in Another Time read "Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods./For nothing now can ever come to any good." This is an unnecessarily corrupted rhyme, because it would be correct if it read "wood" rather than "woods". Perry considers this intentional, saying it feels almost like the poem itself becomes "momentarily distracted by grief."
By presenting the poem in the imperative, Auden draws attention to the poem, according to the scholar John G. Blair. In 2009 the scholar Heidi Hartwig argued that the poem could be read and interpreted in many different ways, depending on how it is presented and who is presenting it. Beach notes that in the revised version of the poem, the first two stanzas are tied to the everyday world, referencing mundane things such as airplanes and telephones. Conversely, the two new stanzas reference things more common to typical ballads, such as the ocean or the heavens. The two halves "have an underlying tone of cosmic disillusion characteristic of the interwar period." He considers that piecing the halves together makes the poem "lively" and appealing to various readers.
Appearances and reception
The poem is read in its entirety in the 1994 British romantic comedy film Four Weddings and a Funeral. The poem is read by Matthew, a character portrayed by John Hannah, at a funeral. After the film's release, Auden's work saw increased attention, particularly "Funeral Blues". After the film's release, a collection of Auden's poems—including "Funeral Blues"—was published by Faber and Faber, selling around a quarter million copies. A 1999 poll conducted by the BBC placed the poem as the United Kingdom's fifth most popular "modern" poem. The introduction to a 2000 poetry anthology published by Miles Kelly Publishing credited the poem's reading in Four Weddings and a Funeral with showing how poetry could be "cool". In 2013 "Funeral Blues" was described as "perhaps Auden's best‐known work".
The poem is often read as a memorial. An article in The New Yorker describes the poem as serving as the "elegy of the AIDS era" in the 1980s. It is the English contribution to the statue commemorating the Heysel Stadium disaster, where a retaining wall collapsed, resulting in 39 deaths on 29 May 1985, when Liverpool F.C. played Juventus FC in the European Cup final. Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick read the poem in full at the funeral of police officer Keith Palmer, (1968 – 22 March 2017), who was fatally stabbed in the 2017 Westminster attack.
- "'Stop all the clocks'". British Library. British Library Board. Retrieved 18 July 2016.
- Perry, Seamus. "An introduction to 'Stop all the clocks'". The British Library. Retrieved 2021-04-03.
- Mitchell 1981, p. 108.
- Wright 1969, p. 98.
- Beach 1957, p. 184.
- Bloomfield 1964, p. 131.
- Auden & Isherwood 2019, p. 599.
- Kaplan, Lisa Faye (April 28, 1994). "Hit Film Ignites Interest in W. H. Auden Poem". The Seattle Times. p. E2.
- Bloomfield 1964, p. 35.
- Bloomfield 1964, p. 17.
- Beach 1957, p. 183.
- Blair 2015, p. 121.
- Hartwig, Heidi (October 2009). "W. H. Auden's Public Art: From Poetic Reticence to Operatic Performance". Text and Performance Quarterly. 29 (4): 367–382. doi:10.1080/10462930903242863. ISSN 1046-2937.
- BBC 1999, p. 2.
- Miles Kelly 2000, p. 5.
- Garrington, Abbie (July 2013). "What does a modernist mountain mean? Auden and Isherwood's The Ascent of F6: Auden and Isherwood's The Ascent of F6". Critical Quarterly. 55 (2): 26–49. doi:10.1111/criq.12043.
- Gopnik, Adam. "The Double Man". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2021-04-04.
- "Anniversary monument honours Heysel dead". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2021-04-03.
- Collier, Hatty; Chandler, Mark (10 April 2017). "PC Keith Palmer funeral: Hundreds of mourners join grieving relatives at Southwark Cathedral". Evening Standard. Retrieved 29 June 2020.
- The Nation's Favourite Twentieth Century Poems. BBC. 1999. ISBN 978-0-563-55143-0.
- 100 Great Poems: Favourite Poems and Their Poets. Miles Kelly. 2000. ISBN 978-1-902947-54-9.
- Bloomfield, B. C. (1964). W.H. Auden, a bibliography: the early years through 1955. University Press of Virginia.
- Beach, Joseph Warren (1957). The making of the Auden canon. University of Minnesota Press.
- Mitchell, Donald (1981). Britten and Auden in the thirties: the year 1936. University of Washington Press. ISBN 978-0-295-95814-9.
- Wright, George Thaddeus (1969). W. H. Auden. Twayne Publishers. ISBN 978-0-8057-0028-2.
- Auden, W. H.; Isherwood, Christopher (2019). The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Plays and Other Dramatic Writings, 1928-1938. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-65614-4.
- Blair, John G. (2015). Poetic Art of W.H. Auden. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691623665 – via Project MUSE.
- Stop all the Clocks at the British Library
- Full digitisation of Britten's 'Ascent of F6' manuscript on the British Library website.
- Evening Standard article on Keith Palmer's Funeral on the Standard's website