Stylistic analysis of Stop All The Clocks, W H Auden
The monosyllabic title of this poem is an imperative command and by its syntactic form (imperative verb-predeterminer-determiner-noun) connotations of urgency are foregrounded. The poem’s tone is elegiac and lamentable and is written in a formal diction befitting of such a solemn occasion. Thematically it looks at time, death, love and grief. Auden was a homosexual and it was claimed that this poem was written on the death of his lover, (Hamilton,1994:22). It could be said it is a poem about the pain and grief the narrator is experiencing following the death of his partner. He is ereft and according to Engler, ‘as there is no specific indication that the speaker is not the author, we tend to read the text as a personal statement of the author, almost autobiographical’, (cited in Verdonk, 1993:167).
This poem, whose metre is an iambic pentameter has a sombre beat which is paralleled with the implied sound of the ‘muffled drum’. It has a regular rhyme scheme of a/a/b/b and has four quatrains, each quatrain comprising of two rhyming heroic couplets, helping to create and maintain a steady, almost melodic rhythm. The first verb clause which uses an imperative form, ‘Stop all the clocks’ einforces the title of the poem and is followed immediately by a second verb clause, ‘cut off the telephone,’ even the piano must be silenced. The commands ‘stop’ and ‘silence’ are phonologically foregrounded by the use of sibilance. Their use conveys the quietness the narrator is demanding, translating into a ‘shush’ quietening, onomatopoeic phonological effect, creating peace and a sense of silence and which also has the ability to slow down the forward movement of the poem. Everything must be silent, even the dog must be silenced ‘with a juicy bone’.
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An air of solemnity is created and the reader is made aware of the mournful tone of the occasion. There is a single occurrence of enjambment within the poem, between lines three and four of the first stanza, which rushes along the verb clause ‘Bring out the coffin’ reinforcing the narrator’s wish to bring his friend’s death out into the public domain. In the second line of the second stanza the declarative, hyperbolic statement, ‘He Is Dead’ is graphologically deviant by the use of capitals and is therefore foregrounded.
It would appear he was deified by the narrator and by the use of apitals the death is compared, in a malapropic sense, with the death of Christ, ‘He Is Risen’. An aeroplane is personified using the stative verb ‘moaning’ to describe the sound of the engines and by the use of the dynamic verb ‘scribbles’ he describes how he wishes the message, ‘He Is Dead’ to be written in the sky. There is no need for precision in the outline of the writing, it is paralleled with what he perceives is his own shattered and distorted future. He wants the message to disperse and infiltrate the air that the world breathes. It is to be a public mourning as though he had been a head of state.
His lover is personified as his universe by the use of lists and repetition and the importance of him in his life, he is his world is foregrounded by the use of personal pronouns and an extended metaphor, ‘…. my North, my South, my East, my West’, which continues on through lines two and three of the third stanza. The sense that his life now has no direction is foregrounded by its link to the points of a compass. Even the policemen directing the traffic are wearing black gloves, symbolic of mourning, not white as is usual, also helping to reinforce the narrators loss of direction .
The archaic tradition of placing black crepe bows around the necks of the mourning has been personified in the transference of their wearing to the white necks of the doves. There is imagery here of light versus dark or as the reader may perceive, life versus death. Doves are symbolic of purity and of heaven and are believed to fly at Saint Peter’s Gate. It would seem that on their arrival there, even the light and serenity of heaven will be darkened and blemished by the wearing of their black mourning bows. Assonance links cohesively the two stative psychological verbs ‘mourning’ and moaning’ linking them together at the level of sound, phonologically.
These soft vowel sounds serve to create a crying, mournful sound. Concrete nouns are used frequently for example clocks, dogs and by their use a greater depth and visual quality is given to the poem making the situation tangible. It is a very concentrated narrative which succeeds in maintaining the reader’s attention.
The semantic field of time is evident throughout the poem, in its title, ‘Stop all the clocks’ and again in the final stanza where the narrator wishes to ‘Pack p the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood’. The long vowel sound in pour represents the movement of the seas emptying. Plosives are used here in pour and pack to give emphasis to their meaning. He wishes to extinguish the stars and eradicate the world he lives in, time would then stand still. The first two stanzas are written in the present tense after which there is a volta and the next stanza is written in the past tense as if this is a time to reflect upon his loss. The final stanza reverts back to the present, almost as though, having reflected he is brought back to he present and realises the enormity of what his friend’s death means to him.
Stop All The Clocks evokes, through its use of emotive language the transience of life and the inevitability of death. If the narrator can feel this way upon the death of their lover then their love for them in life must have been both immutable and immeasurable. His feelings of wretchedness and hopelessness are paralleled in the final rhyming couplet’s pounding rhythm, created by assonance, which mimics the final beats of the funeral drum when he says, ‘For nothing now can ever come to any good’.