The theme of death is commonly used in the world of literature; it exists as one of the defying elements in the writing of poetry. Maybe because at some point in our lives, we must all face the dreaded idea of death. The poems Piano by the Victorian poet D.H Lawrence, Refugee Mother And Child by the Nigerian poet Chinua Achebe, Funeral Blues by the English poet W.H Auden, A Case of Murder by the illustrious Vernon Scannell, Remember by the romantic Christina Rossetti and On My first Sonne by the English Renaissance poet Ben Jonson, use a selection of poetic techniques in order to convey a broad variety of emotions surrounding the main theme of death.
Through the use of direct words with negative connotation, Auden conveys the theme of death, whilst creating a dark, mournful time in the poem, Funeral Blues. The mood of Funeral Blues can come across as quite angry and frustrating, and I find that this anger and frustration towards the world increases, as Auden skillfully uses stronger words with negative connotation towards the end of the poem, ‘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.’ These words are of rejection, waste and redundancy. I find that this line not only highlights the frustrated emotions of the narrator, but additionally, through the use of direct words with negative connotation incorporated with nature, suggests that the narrator wants the whole world to stop dead, and mourn his loved one’s death.
Moreover, the elegy Funeral Blues explores and expresses the frustration and sorrow of a lover, who is trying to cope with the death of his loved one. Through the use of imperatives, the poet’s intentions are made very clear as the poem commences, ‘Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone/prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone’. This beginning line suggests that the narrator is trying to keep his composure and gain control, as this will give him a sense of security and reassurance to cope with the death of his loved one. Auden cleverly uses onomatopoeia to highlight our everyday lives, for example, the ticking of the ‘clocks’, the ringing of the ‘telephones’, the barking from the dog and the steady rhythm of the ‘drum’. These are all sounds that we hear in everyday life, and I feel that the narrator has a huge urge to stop it all, and be left with nothing but silence. I understand that the narrator is longing for silence, in respect for the dead, and also that he feels there is no meaning in the world moving on.
I understand that when Auden uses direct words with negative connotation, ‘stop’, ‘cut off’, ‘silence’, ‘coffin’, ‘mourners’, he is emphasising the theme of death throughout the poem. Similarly, in A Case of Murder, Scannell also uses direct words with strong negative connotation to convey the theme of death, ‘alone’, ‘hot blood’, ‘mad’, ‘furry dark’, ‘snarl of a grin’ ‘cracked like a nut’, ‘dumped’.
Additionally, the poet employs a regular rhyme scheme in Funeral Blues, as Auden intentionally starts the poem with an AABA rhyme scheme in the first stanza, which soon becomes a regular AABB in the second stanza. The use of rhyming couplets also gives the poem a sense of evenness and a steady, somewhat fast, rhythm and tempo to the poem, which works with the steady beat of the ‘muffled drum’ set by Auden. I find that the fast rhythm and tempo of the poem works well with the narrator’s frustrated emotions that seem to pour out one after the other.
Moreover, Auden stresses the narrator’s grief and frustration in the last line of the poem, ‘For nothing now can ever come to any good’. Auden contrasts ‘nothing’ and ‘good’ to emphasise that nothing is important anymore. This makes me feel sorrow towards the narrator, as he feels that nothing worthwhile can ever be fulfilled. Through the use of direct language with strong negative connotation, incorporated with nature, Auden successfully conveys the frustrating emotions of the narrator, in the theme of loss and death.
In contrast to Funeral Blues, On My First Sonne, shows the grief and emotionally difficult situation in which a father loses his favourite son. Even though both poems deal with death and the loss of a loved one, On My First Sonne, pours out a stream of emotions and sorrow in a much more careful and indirect way, which reflects upon the renaissance period, in which On My First Sonne was written in. This poem is about the reflection of a father’s pain in his favourite son’s—‘thou child of my right hand’—death. He feels that god has taken his son away as a punishment, as his ‘sinne was too much hope of thee’, meaning he was too proud of his son, and expected high expectations of him.
The father, Ben Jonson himself, speaks about how his son was the best thing he ever created, ‘Ben Jonson his best piece of poetrie’, and this reveals just how close and loving their relationship was. I find their relationship very similar to the relationship of the mother and son in the poem Refugee Mother and Child by Chinua Achebe. I find the starting line of the poem; ‘No Madonna and Child could touch/Her tenderness for a son’ expresses the close bond of the Mother and her son, for their love for one another is even greater than that of Madonna and Child.
Furthermore, Achebe uses a lack of verbs to portray how tired the mother must be feeling, ‘waddling in labored steps’ and ‘dried-up bottoms waddling’. The use of sensory appeal and powerful imagery emphasise the theme of death all around the camp, ‘the air was heavy with odors of diarrhea/of unwashed children with washed-out ribs’. Just by reading this line, I can already imagine what death must smell like and how unhealthy and starved these young children must be. Achebe uses many words to symbolise the theme of death, ‘struggling’, ‘skull’ and ‘grave’. This, in result, foreshadows that the mother will lose her son at some point of the poem, and that he cannot escape death. The last line of the poem, ‘like putting flowers on a tiny grave’ has the most impact for me.
The word ‘flowers’ shows respect for the loss of a loved one and ‘grave’ stresses the sorrowful and lonesome idea of death. The word ‘tiny’ emphasises just how young the son must be, and this makes me feel sorrow for both the mother and her son, as her son has not yet experienced and fulfilled life entirely, and that he is too young to cope with the frightening idea of death. I can understand his mother’s grief, as she will never have the chance to watch him grow up, and make a life of his own. Instead, she is left to cope with, not only the harsh conditions in the refugee camp, but also the loss of her beloved son.
On My First Sonne is in pure iambic pentameter, as is Rossetti’s Remember. Both narrators’ are dealing with death and loss, and the iambic pentameter brings a sense of calmness and evenness throughout the poem. Both narrators have similar purposes, as they are both trying to comfort themselves with the idea of never seeing their loved ones again, as well as comforting their loved ones. The narrator in Remember attempts to give her loved one a sense of comfort and security, while she has ‘gone faraway into the silent land’. ‘Silent land’ is less harsh than the idea of death and afterlife, and I think that Rossetti successfully achieves to make the idea of death seem rather calming.
The narrator in On My First Sonne shows that the love for his son is caring and tender, ‘rest in soft peace’. Jonson uses words with positive connotation in this phrase, and the words, ‘rest’ and ‘soft’ bring a peaceful and calm image to my mind. When Jonson adds, ‘soft’, which emphasises how much he cares for his son, and how much he longs for his son to be happy during his ‘afterlife’. Jonson conveys the theme of death with the idea of resting in ‘soft peace’, as it makes the idea of death seem less frightening and more reassuring.
Similarly, the poem Piano by D.H Lawrence also uses indirect words with positive connotation to convey the themes of loss and death. Even though the narrator does not have someone to comfort him, like the loved ones in Remember and On My First Sonne, the narrator reassures himself by remembering happy, and comforting memories of when he was a young boy with his mother, ‘hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano in our guide’ and, ‘pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings’. The line that has the most impact on me in the poem is, ‘Down in the flood of remembrance’.
This line has such powerful imagery, and I can almost feel the rush of emotions pouring out of the narrator, and see the flood of tears that have overcome him. The word, ‘remembrance’ is powerful, as it not only conveys the narrator’s struggle of emotions as he copes with the loss of his mother, but also conveys the theme of death, as his mother can no longer be by his side, and he is only left with memories of his mother.
In conclusion, all six poems use a broad variety of poetic techniques in order to explore and convey the main themes of both loss and death. Funeral Blues by W. H Auden was the most dramatic and direct poem, as Auden not only used a range of words with negative connotation, but he also explored effective techniques such as, imperatives and onomatopoeia. Auden stresses the frustrating emotions that almost everyone would feel, if they ever experienced the loss of a loved one. Refugee Mother and Child by Chinua Achebe is a beautiful poem that expresses the unconditional love that a mother has for her son. Achebe successfully used powerful imagery throughout the poem, which made it even more sickening and sad. On My First Sonne by Ben Jonson was very similar to Refugee Mother and Child as both narrators had to cope with the loss of their children.
Jonson conveyed the themes of loss and death much more carefully and delicately than the other two poems. Even though there were only a few words with positive connotation, Jonson still managed to create a reassuring, calming and comforting tone through the steady tempo of the iambic pentameter. I feel that the poem, which best represented both themes of death and loss, was Refugee Mother and Child due to Achebe’s use of powerful imagery and sensory appeal. I could feel a real connection with the mother, and I could imagine how tired she must have felt. I was strongly touched by the unconditional love that the mother had for her son, and, despite being tired, her determination to make the last moments of her son’s life the happiest.