I think there must be some connection between the last two lines from the first stanza of "A German Requiem":

Yesterday the very furniture seemed to reproach you.
Today you take your place in the Widow's Shuttle.

I believe there must be some contrast between yesterday and today.

In another post on ELL, I asked the same question and received a comment which says yesterday the widow was alone with the furniture and today she is taking the shuttle with other widows. I think that helped my understanding. But I still want to dig a little deeper into the question.

Why did the furniture reproach her? Perhaps she sobbed too much so that even the furniture found it unbearable?

  • 2
    Heh, I personally, I think you're looking too deeply into this. I would say that your first point about the contrast between her "aloneness" the day before and her "one-of-the-crowdness" today is a point more important than "what" had been reproaching her. This being said, it may be that the furniture holds some sort of special memory of her husband. But who knows. This is all just speculation without being familiar with the writer and without having read the poem thoroughly. Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 8:36

1 Answer 1


The poem "A German Requiem" is full of contrasts, especially in the first and last stanzas with their repetitive structure and countless sentences of the form "It is not X. It is Y." In these particular lines, we're looking at a contrast between aloneness and togetherness: between sitting in your own house forgetting and taking part in a ceremony of forgetting together with others. Forgetting is the key concept in this poem. I think the following lines from the start of the third stanza are especially key to understanding what the poem is all about, because of their directness and transparency:

How comforting it is, once or twice a year,
To get together and forget the old times.

The ceremony being described - the journey in the "Widow's Shuttle", the gathering of "boiled shirts" in a cemetery to hear speeches, the short time spent tending the graves before going home - is all part of the so-called "ritual [of] oblivion" described in the first stanza. Let's look again at those lines:

It is what you have forgotten, what you must forget.
What you must go on forgetting all your life.
And with any luck oblivion should discover a ritual.
You will find out that you are not alone in the enterprise.
Yesterday the very furniture seemed to reproach you.
Today you take your place in the Widow's Shuttle.

This passage introduces the description of said ritual: waiting for the bus, dressed almost like a bride, gathering at the graveside, and so on. It's in these lines that the poem transitions from talking about forgetting to talking about communal forgetting. This is the contrast which the last two lines express: when the widow sits at home alone and ignores the past, the very furniture seems to reproach her for her forgetting; but when she takes her place together with the other widows, she receives validation and solidarity as they all sit and forget the past together.

  • But of course, it's not really about forgetting. It's about being unable to forget, however hard we try. Commented Nov 3, 2017 at 18:34

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