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This poem became famous when it was used in the movie “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” where it is apparently given a moving rendition. I did not see the movie, but I did read about the Auden craze it stirred up; when I looked up the poem in question I was rather surprised.
I felt that something was seriusly amiss–what the filmmakers and audience apparently considered profound pathos struck me as pathetic silliness. Moaning airplanes? Pigeons in wreaths? Traffic cops with black gloves? This is pretty far from the Auden of the superb Yeats elegy or “Musee des Beaux Arts”–it is true that in those poems too he uses quotidian images, but the tone and strategy are completely different: tragedy is made more poignant by the _indifference_ of the ordinary world, not by an absurd parade of ostentatious grief.
So it seemed to me there were three likely explanations. First, there is something wrong with me, and I am unable to appreciate simple heartfelt emotion in poetry without suspicion–this may be true to some extent, but I do think that most good poets are at least as suspicious as I am. Second, Auden’s “Blues” indicates a venture into American popular culture gone horribly astray, like a Puccini Western; perhaps he thought the aeroplanes and telephones lent a jazzy cutting-edge flavor to the poem.
The third explanation was that it was a parody, the modern British version of Ode to Stephen Dowling Botts. In fact, the opening lines remind me of the famous verses writeen by a Poet Laureate on an illness of the Prince of Wales:
Across the wires the electric message came
”He is no better, he is much the same.”
As I was looking for the poem on the Web tonight, I found the following in the Wikipedia article on it (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Funeral_Blues)
“The original five-stanza version was a parody of a poem of mourning for a political leader written for the verse play The Ascent of F6, which Auden wrote with Christopher Isherwood in 1936. The original five-stanza version and the final four-stanza version have the same two first stanzas. The final three stanzas of the five-stanza version (in The Ascent of F6) are entirely different from the final two stanzas of the four-stanza version.”
Explains a lot. Of course, the final version may not be a parody just because the original version was. I guess you can decide what to do with it.