Stop All the Clocks
This poem takes grief to another level. The poet uses rhyming couplets to take personal grief into the public realm. The poet uses metaphor, allusion, fictions and makes very good use of them. The poem is riddled with connotations, expecting the reader to understand the hyperbole because perhaps every reader has suffered through the gloom and depression of the death of a loved one, or in this case, the loss of love which seems very much like dying.
The poem projects ahead to a phantom funeral and wake, the whole world has been turned around. It is pretty clear that the whole poem is a metaphor for grief. The poet has lost a love, not a life, but when it comes to losing a loved-one, especially a romantic partner, it is very similar to death itself. The person who bemoans the loss of a romantic love feels very much like he or she has died, or certainly something inside has died.
When Auden writes, “Let aeroplanes [airplanes] circle moaning overhead / Scribbling on the sky the message HE IS DEAD” that is a reference to the dull roar of a small single-propeller airplane going round and round, and letting loose with those puffy white clouds that can leave messages in the sky (skywriting). The whole world should know how awful the poet feels.
Stop everything, stop the barking dog and stop the piano players. Colors become important in the poem, and the juxtaposition of colors adds richness to the grief.
“Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves”; crepes have color, are sometimes dark, and putting a bow the color of a crepe around the “white neck of public dovesâ€¦” suggests strangulation, and hindrance to a bird that symbolizes freedom. So the act of putting a bow around the neck of a white dove is like saying one should snuff out life and freedom.
The poet wants the traffic cop to not wear the usual white gloves, but the poet doesn’t say that. He says the traffic policeman should wear “black cotton gloves” rather than white suede gloves perhaps? Up until the 12th line in the poem, a reader might assume that there was a real death here. But the 12th line lets the alert reader know that it was a loss of love, not of life, that caused the horrific pain.
Love is always linked to the heavens, the stars, the moon, and once love is gone, “The stars are not wanted now,” because they will only remind the poet of what once was.
The poem has four stanzas with four lines in each stanza. Each stanza has about four beats although Auden is not totally consistent. There is a theme that isn’t real obvious but the suggestion is that building one’s life around another person is risky, because when that person dies, or somehow is removed from the relationship, the person left behind has a sense of powerlessness.
Hence, since every moment of every day had been wrapped around this individual, the stars can disappear and “Pack up the moon and dismantle the sunâ€¦” By doing that, of course the Earth would come to an end; without sunlight, plants and trees die and the world is a dark, empty place. This is part of the reality of deep grief.
“Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood, For nothing now can ever come to any good,” the poet wails. As long as the love is gone (or has died, the poet leaves this open as a possibility for the reader to conjecture), all the primary compass directions are gone as well. This suggests that the poet is lost in a world with no direction. There are no longer seven days in a week, because every day will look the same without the love. “Noon” and “midnight” cover (by synecdoche) cover every hour of the day.
The poet wants the whole world to grieve with him, and he wants the natural world to disappear so he can be in absolute isolation. That is the crux of the poem, because there is no reason for anything worthwhile to exist now that the love has gone. Isolation is the best hiding place when there is no reason for anything else to exist.
Auden, W.H. “Stop All The Clocks” English Department / Western Michigan University.
Retrieved May 8, 2015, from http://homepages.wmich.edu.
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