At first sight, Auden’s “Stop All the Clocks” seems to be a poem about the planned time for relaxation, when one does not have to worry about waking up by the alarm the next morning. At least that’s what I do when I am about to have a day of rest: turn off all the notifications, buzzers, and alerts. I am “dead to the world”: not literally, of course. Meanwhile, when I continued reading Auden’s poem, I realized it was about a literal death: the event when a person stops breathing and ceases to bring happiness to those loving him or her. And though the gender of the speaker is not mentioned, it is clear that the person who has passed away was male. This fact, along with emphatic phrases and highly poetic words used to express mourning, makes me assume that the narrator is female. The poem is so tense, and the narrator sounds so grief-stricken that it cannot but make the reader sympathize with the poor girl (at least I consider the mourner to be a girl).
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Apart from the gender issues, the situation depicted in the poem is rather clear. The speaker shares her profound loss with the audience. She is probably staying at her home, thinking about the day to come – the day when her beloved one will be buried, and they will part forever. The poem’s form helps to pass on the general spirit of the story. Written in the elegiac stanza, “Stop All the Clocks” consists of four quatrains with an AABB rhyme. The poet utilizes iambic pentameter, but it is rather irregular, which adds to the poem’s hopeless mood.
What touches me specifically about the poem is that the author addresses not a concrete person but the whole world. Everyone, in the narrator’s mind, must mourn along with her: “the dog” (Auden 2), “the pianos” (3), “aeroplanes” (5), “traffic policemen” (8), and even “public doves” (7). Even the sun, the moon, and stars make no more sense to the narrator, which signifies that she wouldn’t mind being buried with her beloved man. Since he was her “North, <…> South, <…> East and West,” she does not see how she could continue living without him (Auden 9). Although the issue addressed in the poem is highly personal, it matters to many people other than the author. Almost every individual has experienced grief in his or her life, and reading “Stop All the Clocks” is bound to touch upon the readers’ feelings. For some, it may relieve the pain they are experiencing, and for others, it may explain how deep one’s sorrow can be, thus teaching us to sympathize with and support those who have recently lost someone.
Having discussed the poem with some of my friends, I learned that they also thought it was rather tragic and touching. However, one of them did not agree with my opinion on the narrator’s gender. Still, I am convinced that only a woman could express her bereavement in such a stirring way. Although the problem of the poem is not resolved, we can make an important conclusion. The most essential things in life are not concerned with money. What is truly precious is people’s feelings, especially mutual ones. When one loses a beloved person, no wealth or beauty of the world can replace him or her. I was wrong about the meaning of the poem’s title: sometimes (actually, quite often) stopping the clocks accompanies not relaxation but despair of losing someone for good.
Auden, W. H. “Stop All the Clocks, Cut Off the Telephone” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, shorter 12th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, 2016, pp. 802-803.