In the poems, Funeral Blues and Long Distance II, both poets explore the theme of loss and the effect it has on those mourning death. In Auden’s poem, he explores the impacts on death on both a singular narrative voice and the effect this has on the surrounding community. However, Harrison focuses on the differing behavioural responses felt by members of the same family.
In Funeral Blues, Auden begins his poem by exploring the impact of death has on the view of narrator’s view of the environment. He repeats lexis relating to sound, emphasising the silence that a narrator relentlessly insists, in order to stop interrupting the mourning of this loss. The phrase, ‘cut off the telephone’, seems to suggest the loss of communication that it felt through the death of someone. Auden’s use of the verb, ‘cut’, highlights the abruptness of death and therefore, the lack of control that one has with holding onto a loved one. Moreover, this mortal limitation is further developed by the repetition of imperative verbs: ‘prevent’, ‘silence’ and ‘bring’, which shows that the circumstance of loss can be very demanding on the community. The bleakness of the speaker’s experience with this loss is also portrayed, as they want the community to mourn with them. The image of the ‘silence’ that ‘the pianos’ now give suggests metaphorically that bereavement deadens the musicality of life, but also could represent the recognition of a solemn event. ‘Stop all the clocks’ opens the poem by developing a tone of immediacy and emphasises how time stops or becomes distorted in the aftermath of loss. Harrison, however, explores a much more personal reaction to the death of a family member. In Long Distance II, the narrator explores the differing reactions to loss between him and his father. In comparison to Auden’s presentation of time ending, Harrison presents the father to continue to keep the memory of the mother alive, through repeated images such as ‘kept her slippers warming’ and ‘renew her transport pass’. Enjambment through the listing of these repeated images helps convey the repetitiveness of the father’s actions, and that it is part of ordinary life and forms part of his daily schedule. The use of the present tense verb, ‘warming’, highlights how he is actively behaving as if she is still there and develops a moving image of the father’s ongoing care for the mother’s wellbeing. Furthermore, the use of ‘renew’ helps show the desperation of the father as he performs futile acts in an attempt to feel as if his wife still exists. A similar image to that of Auden’s is the son’s admission that he has a ‘disconnected number I still call’, further developing the theme of loss terminating all contact between people after death. It also shows how the attachment to a loved one can lead to denial. Throughout the poem, Harrison suggests that the son reacts differently to the father, but the idea of him ‘still calling’ emphasises how his behaviour is similar in that it is an irrational action to cling on to his mother in memory.
The effect that loss has on the routine of life is portrayed quite differently in both poems, though the loss is of quite similar. In Auden’s Funeral Blues, the narrator seems to have lost a sense of direction. The dead man is a key part of the narrators life, ‘my North, my South, my East and West’, capturing the concept that the one who has died was the narrator’s compass for life and provided them drive in life. The repetition of the possessive pronoun ‘my’ helps convey how painful this experience of loss is . The use of temporal phrases, ‘working week’, ‘Sunday rest’, ‘noon’ and ‘midnight’, adds to the loss of purpose. It all suggests that a busy life was shared with this loved one, and now, they are left alone in pain and sorrow, exemplifying how much the speaker looked forward to moments in life. A colon is used introduce the final thought, ‘: I was wrong’, and this reveals the sombre, final thought of the speaker and that they are lost in their mourning for this loved one. The colon separates the passionate description of the past and the contrite statement, and acts both as pause of remorse, but also a physical display of vulnerability as the narrator is isolated. Harrison, on the other hand, portrays a different change brought about by the loss. The father’s approach to live is contrasting to that portrayed in Auden’s poem. He tries to continue with the normal routine of life as he is in denial of this loss of his wife. He does, however, realise that his behaviour is illogical as he seems embarrassed about his routine, ‘clear away her things’ showing how the father wants to hide his attachment to his wife. The use of the adjective ‘raw’ to describe this ‘love’ helps portray the fresh, immediate pain caused by the loss and that it hasn’t changed, but also conveys the purity of it; it is literal and unassuming. This alludes to the idea that the loss hasn’t changed the father’s heart and is still connected with his wife though she is only a memory in his mind. The fact that the father has to ‘look alone’ seems to show that he has to impersonate his sorrows, as he is so absorbed in this cycle he is performing, and therefore, doesn’t feel the harrowing effects of this loss.
The acknowledgement of those affected by the loss is felt with varied responses. In Funeral Blues, Auden portrays the detrimental feelings of the lover through the use of repeated natural imagery, as there is pain inflicted from the death. Nature is used to end all aspects of life, the verb ‘dismantle’ conveying the need to shut out the world. All the beauty of life is drained, and nothing else is important now. The requests, ‘pack up the moon’, ‘pour away the ocean’ are unreasonable and impossible, and this goes to show how the lover has not a glimpse of hope in their thoughts and is in anger. They have accepted the loss and want to the environment to reflect their emptiness within. The contrasting characters of the verbs and the nouns of nature helps show the change in view from positive to negative through this loss of important love. ‘Nothing now’ helps further show the idea that they can no longer live life the way it used to be, since their love is no longer existent in the present. Tony Harrison, however, conveys the father as someone who is in denial. Though the mother has been ‘two years dead’, the father still cannot accept the idea of his wife’s death; he is in denial. The mention of his anticipation, ‘sure that very soon’ shows how he cannot wait to see his wife, though this will never happen. A contrast to the language used in Auden’s poem is ‘scrape’. This verb conveys the idea that he is isolated, but alert even to the smallest of sounds, and also seems familiar to the father. ‘Rusted lock’ helps further the concept of his isolation, both as a having connotations of age, but also his lack of using the door to leave the house. He is in a depressive state, and needs his wife to ‘end his grief’.