Summary of The Dead (III) by Rupert Brooke

This poem summary focuses on the third of the five sonnets that account for Rupert Brooke’s fame as a war poet writing during the time of the First World War. This poem, as well as the fourth one, is entitled ‘The Dead’. It is divided into two stanzas. The first stanza, which consists of eight lines, is known as an octet, and the second stanza, which is made up of six lines, is known as a sestet. The octet and the sestet together make up fourteen lines, which is the usual count in any sonnet.

In the first stanza, Brooke addresses the bugles that are played in honour of young soldiers who have died at war. He calls these young soldiers “the rich Dead!” They are rich not in terms of money, but in terms of their experiences in the war field. They have experienced the death of their fellow men, but also the chance to fight for their country. Such varied experiences are valuable, implies Brooke. The fact that this line ends with an exclamation mark means that it ought to be read or heard in a tone of triumph. None of the loneliness or the poverty of the soldiers is visible in death anymore. In fact, their dying has made them rare and exceptional (like gold), has lifted them above the mass of humanity who lead banal and inconsequential lives. The sacrifice of the soldiers is what strikes Brooke most. He is aware that they have given up their whole worlds to come to war – the world composed of their friends and family who all knew there was very little chance of them ever coming back home from the battlefield. They gave up their youth too, says Brooke. Youth is supposed to be a time of enjoyment and love. But for the soldiers, their youth was spent in a desolate environment of death and destruction. They gave up their future, both their work and their leisure. They gave up the relaxation they would have experienced in their old age, being cared for by offspring that now will never be born. However, in exchange for all this, the soldiers have got only one thing in return – immortality. Their names have become imprinted in the pages of history. Their bravery and sacrifice will always be remembered.

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The second stanza again begins with Brooke asking the bugles to blow out with strength and energy, and to let all English citizens know about the young men who have died so that they may live in peace. These young soldiers, says Brooke, have brought Holiness, Love and Pain that had not existed on earth for a long time before their arrival in the battlefield. War is then almost akin to religion for Brooke. Both are rituals that purify humanity. Though war may seem to be motivated by hatred and animosity, it in fact gives rise to Love in the soldiers. It is for the love they harbour towards their country that they are willing to fight and die. Pain like theirs is not experienced by any common man, because a single loss in the battlefield amounts to their country moving that much closer to defeat. Brooke is able to tap into all these emotions of the soldiers. Brooke also says that as a result of their sacrifice, Honour has been reborn on earth. As opposed to the corruption that leads to war, it is the honourable acts of the soldiers that will redeem their countrymen. Their Nobleness is what the next generation of Englishmen will learn about, and look to for inspiration.

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