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Icarus: entering the world of myth
Icarus: entering the world of myth

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4.4 Auden’s Stop All the Clocks

In this section you are invited to compare Auden's perspective in Musée des Beaux Arts with his depiction of overwhelming grief in this poem.

Activity 6

W.H. Auden, from Twelve Songs (Stop All the Clocks)

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,1
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 overhead5
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,10
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.15
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
W.H. Auden (1966) Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957, London, Faber and Faber

If you compare Auden’s two poems you may be particularly struck by the insistence that in Stop All the Clocks the dog should not enjoy his juicy bone (line 2) which is in stark contrast to line 12 of Musée des Beaux Arts, where dogs are depicted as going on with their ‘doggy life’. In this respect Auden may be moving closer to the world of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which death or traumatic transformation of one creature can cause emotional and physical tremors across a landscape.