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W. H. Auden, Stop all the Clocks and Musée des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden, 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 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.

Meaning:
W. H. Auden's poem, "Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone" conveys the meaning of overwhelming grief, tragic loss, and an unrelenting pessimism best exemplified in the last lines, "For nothing now can ever come to any good." The tone of the poem is that of a melancholy sadness enforced by the internal rhyme scheme (aabb) and the melodic iambic pentameter used. The title and first line of the poem demonstrate the author's inconsolable grief by commanding the audience to do something which is not possible, "Stop all the clocks."




W. H. Auden, Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.


Meaning:

The basic premise of the poem is response to tragedy. The title refers to the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels. Auden visited the museum in 1938 and viewed the painting by Brueghel, which the poem is basically about. Generalizing at first, and then going into specifics the poem theme is the apathy with which humans view individual suffering. The poem juxtaposes ordinary events and exraordinary ones, although extraordinary events seem to deflate to everyday ones with his descriptions. Life goes on while a "miraculous birth occurs", but also while "the disaster" of Icarus's death happens.

"Fall of Icarus" by Breughel













About the artist:
Peter Breughel, who lived in the first half of the 16th century in a little country called Belgium. His paintings, in general, have allegorical or moralizing significance. The "Fall of Icarus" was his only mythological subject.





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