‘The Funeral’ is a nostalgic poem about relationships, death, and the past. In this poem, Dubie, using a first-person narrative scheme, describes how a speaker and his aunt enjoyed the previous summer near their springhouse. The next year she died of cancer. Through writing this poem, Dubie explores the uncertainty of life and the unfortunate turn of events. His focus is on the temporality of life and the cold, firm grip of death.
‘The Funeral’ by Norman Dubie is about the story of a speaker and his aunt who was suffering from cancer.
This poem introduces the main characters at the very beginning of the poem. The speaker is a four-year-old child who nostalgically recapitulates about his aunt. She was his youngest aunt, and they had a close relationship. The summer before, they spend time together near their springhouse. Then his aunt told her how they made butter from organic materials. Unfortunately, he was unaware of the fact that she was suffering from cancer, and she died the following March.
You can read the full poem here.
It felt like the zero in brook ice.
She was my youngest aunt, the summer before
And cut onions to rinse the air
Of the black, sickly-sweet meats of rotting pecans.
Dubie sets the tone and mood of ‘The Funeral’ from the very first line. As the central theme of this piece is death, he associates the idea of meaninglessness and nothingness with the usage of the term “zero” in the first line. The speaker sensed a kind of absence when he was standing with his youngest aunt near a frozen brook. Its ice reminded him of the impending death of her kind aunt.
They stood there naked and felt the icy cold water passing by their feet. The minnows, nibbling at his aunt’s feet, made her body stiffened. This story dates back to the speaker’s childhood when he was only four.
On that evening, she took the speaker to the nearby springhouse (a kind of storehouse) where rows of butter and cheese were stored.
The cut onions filled the air of the springhouse with an addled, stingy smell. Besides, the rotting meat of pecans added to the foul smell of the room. The description of the springhouse implicitly hints at the internal state of the speaker’s aunt, who was suffering from cancer.
She said butter was colored with marigolds
Her bed linen smelled of camphor. We went
In the second stanza, the speaker talks about what his aunt told her about the preparation of the butter. She told him that they colored the butter using fresh marigolds plucked from the marsh and miner’s candle plants. Furthermore, she added how they discovered fox beyond the barn. While she carried offal’s pail, she often found dozing foxes nearby.
In the last line, the speaker dives into the day of her death. Dubie uses olfactory imagery in order to describe the smell of her deathbed. It smelt of camphor. This line is enjambed with the first line of the following section.
In late March for her burial. I heard the men talk.
The cancer ate her like horse piss eats deep snow.
The last stanza of ‘The Funeral’ is solely about the day of her funeral. It was late March when she died. The speaker heard men talk about her. He noticed the same minnows nibbling at her toe. There is only one difference. The body they were nibbling at could not feel the way it felt before. Besides, it seems that Dubie uses the “minnows” as a symbol of cancer cells.
In the last two lines, the speaker clarifies how he discovered the cause of his aunt’s death. Before that, he did not know she was suffering from a deadly disease. She did not show it. Besides, the way his uncle Peter talked about her death seems bleak. According to him, cancer ate her body like “horse piss” furrows deep snow.
Dubie’s ‘The Funeral’ is written in free-verse. It does not have a regular rhyme scheme or meter. The text consists of three stanzas, each having an irregular line count. In this piece, the first stanza is the longest, and the last one is the shortest. The line count decreases as the poem progresses to the tragic end. Apart from that, this piece is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker who is a four-year-old child. Due to the presence of a first-person voice, it is also an example of a lyric poem.
Dubie utilizes the following literary devices in ‘The Funeral’.
- Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text. Dubie uses this device to connect the lines internally. For instance, it is used in lines 2-5 and so on.
- Simile: The poem begins with the use of this device. Dubie compares the feelings of nothingness to the figure “zero.”
- Metaphor: The phrases “the air/ Of the black” and “sickly-sweet meats of rotting” contain metaphors.
- Alliteration: It occurs when a similar sound is repeated in neighboring words. For example, “sickly-sweet” contains alliteration of the “s” sound.
Norman Dubie’s poem ‘The Funeral’ is about a speaker and his aunt. In this piece, Dubie describes how they spent their time together the year before. The next year she died of cancer. The speaker realized how cruel death could be.
It is a free-verse lyric poem consisting of three stanzas. There is no regular rhyme scheme or metrical pattern in the text. Besides, the text is written from the perspective of a first-person speaker who is a four-year-old child.
This poem taps on a number of themes that include death, loss, relationship, love, and memory. The main idea of the poem revolves around the transience of life and the way death takes everything away, quickly and suddenly.
The tone of this piece is calm, passionate, sad, and serious. In the first two stanzas, Dubie uses a cold and calm tone. In the last stanza, it changes as here the speaker talks about the death of his aunt.
The following list contains a few poems that similarly explore the themes present in Norman Dubie’s poem ‘The Funeral’.
- ‘The Heat of Autumn’ — This poem is about the heat of summer and autumn, symbolizing life and death.
- ‘Funeral Blues’ — This sad elegy describes the feelings associated with grieving.
- ‘A Requiem’ — This short poem is about a very common experience of grief and mourning aroused by last rites.
You can also read about these touching poems to read at funerals.