Perspective: ‘The Dead’ by Rupert Brooke

I like death, the philosophy and guesswork around it. It’s nothing more than a series of unending assumptions. When people talk about death, it reveals much of their character, reveals what they feel is truly important.

Such is the case with Rupert Brooke. His poem ‘The Dead’ offers a romantic view of life, I feel; not one of goodness or ease necessarily, but one fulfilled. For even though a life may be “washed marvellously with sorrow”, every one of these dead were “swift to mirth”. Granted, Brooke cannot possibly have known that about every fallen soldier from The Great War, but it’s something he’s been a part of, something experienced.

And when “All this is ended” abruptly, Brooke still sees the romance. Despite one life ending, it is not that something is lost, but that “a shining peace” is found. There’s nothing religious or ever-ending assumed; there’s no grandiose idea of tomorrow or nothing after death; there is just “a shining peace”, exemplified by the simplicity of the changing seasons.

Possibly the most poetic device chosen here is the lack of multiple stanzas (Writer’s note: the Poetry Foundation does have separate stanzas while the version I initially read does not). Although life is ended abruptly at the end of the eighth line, the poem as a whole does not break. Life ends and death begins; the rush of movement and music and slumber and waking and love and friendship and wonder and loneliness changes to a frost that “stays the waves that dance”. Death is an end to the rush of life, but it is a beginning to peace.

I like to believe that a peace may also be found in life, but I feel this poem is talking specifically about the fallen soldiers of World War One. This is not representative of all people, just those young and turbulent hearts who faced the end sooner than would be expected. And maybe this can be extrapolated to the common day: many people forget what it is to be young, to be a child, to be a teenager. This poem captures a part of that, and reminds us to cherish what we have gained since.

But perhaps most importantly, this teaches us that death is not to be feared.

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