This poem summary focuses on the poem ‘How Sleep the Brave’ by Walter de la Mare. Unlike most other poems of de la Mare’s, the tone of this poem is not light or playful. It is both sombre and dignified. This is what makes ‘How Sleep the Brave’ a remarkable piece of work.
‘How Sleep the Brave’ is made up of three stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of four lines. The speaker in the poem and speaks in first person, and can be equated with de la Mare himself. In the first stanza, de la Mare addresses the nation of England, and asks her not to grieve. This naturally leads us to ask what it is that England is grieving for, and de la Mare provides the answer in the very next line. It seems that England is grieving for the death of many of its young soldiers in war. However, the poet attempts to console England by saying that every single one of those young men felt honoured to die for their country. This was a sacrifice they knew they would have to make when they joined the armed forces, and they made it willingly, feeling that there was no greater glory in life than that of fighting and dying for the sake of one’s country.
In the second stanza, de la Mare speaks in a mysterious tone about something all the soldiers had expected to come face to face with sooner or later. He says that the young men watched closely as “it” came nearer and nearer. This leaves us wondering what “it” is, but de la Mare doesn’t come up with an answer all at once, but keeps us in suspense a little longer. He only gives us little hints now and again to help in figuring out the puzzle by ourselves. In the second line of this stanza, for example, de la Mare says that “it” is like a mystery that you must go beyond your ordinary thoughts to plumb. Thus, “it” is beyond the experience of our physical world. In the third line, de la Mare says that sometimes the young soldiers regarded it with “fear”, and this fear was an experience that they disliked strongly. As soldiers they knew that they were supposed to be brave, and only if they could adopt such an attitude could they be successful in battle, and therefore, keep their countrymen safe. However, they were also human, and this one particular thing (which de la Mare still hasn’t named) scared them once in a while. Finally, in the fourth line, the poet gives us the biggest clue. He tells us that the young men heard the figure of Danger looking at them with no emotion in his eyes, neither pity nor sympathy, and beckoning them to their own deaths. Thus it is the thought of their lives being cut short, and them being killed in the line of duty that scared the soldiers.
In the third stanza, de la Mare says that the young soldier not only heard the call of Danger beckoning them, but also obeyed their call. They laid down their lives in the service of their country, in the service of the England that de la Mare has been speaking to. The poet tells England (and here it would be worth our while to mention that he isn’t speaking only to the geographical entity called ‘England’, but to all the people of England as well) that the soldiers will not be able to hear its tears if it weeps for them, for the sense of honour and courage that they have upheld through their lives and their deaths in the line of duty. Nor will the young men be able to understand how England appreciates the beauty of their sacrifice, and the care they had for all their countrymen. Even if England wins the war, and is rejoicing at their victory, these young soldiers will not be able to participate in that, for they are gone forever. Hence, England must not mourn for them, but rather try to remember what they stood for and taking inspiration from them, continue in its fight against the forces that stand in the way of victory.