Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.
Blow, bugles, blow! They brought us, for our dearth,
Holiness, lacked so long, and Love, and Pain.
Honour has come back, as a king, to earth,
And paid his subjects with a royal wage;
And Nobleness walks in our ways again;
And we have come into our heritage.
This sonnet is a tribute to those British soldiers who died serving their country in the First World War. Brooke declares that the dead men have made the deepest sacrifice possible; but in return they have ennobled themselves and brought honour back to Britain.
STRUCTURE: A sonnet. This is a Plutarchan sonnet: note the ABBA CDDC pattern in the octet. Also note the difference in the sextet to Peace (p.162).
‘The Dead’: this poem expresses a sense of deep reverence for the sacrifice of those who have died in the war.
“Blow out, you bugles”: a bugle is a simple trumpet used in military funerals— in the British Empire, ‘The Last Post’ was played over the bodies of the dead. Note the assonance, here, that runs throughout the poem– perhaps here reminiscent of the bugles themselves.
“rich Dead!”: the highly valued dead are repeatedly referred to through metaphors of earned wealth. The opening line is a passionate call to memorialize the dead soldiers.
“None of these so lonely and poor… made us rarer gifts than gold”: Even the poorest man has, by dying for his country, given a gift more precious than gold. This paradox continues the metaphorical equation of death at war to the passing on of wealth— freely given to the people of Britain (note Brooke writes of “us”; he speaks for the nation). The line also recalls Shakespeare’s Henry V: “For he to-day that sheds his blood with me / Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, / This day shall gentle his condition” (Act IV, scene iii). The sacrifice of death gives nobility to the poorest.
“These laid the world away”: the world is willingly laid aside.
“poured out the red / Sweet wine of youth”: in death, youth is used up, like wine decanted from a glass.
“gave up the years to be…”: the dead men’s sacrifice is vividly drawn out by Brooke as he speculatively imagines their years of “work and joy” lost; as is their “serene” time, or peaceful time, of old age. He even conjectures that the men have given up their “immortality” by not having “sons”, whom also “they gave”.
“Blow, bugles, blow!”: the repetition at the beginning of the sextet emphasises the message of remembrance that the poem insists upon.
“They brought us…Holiness…Love and Pain…”: Brooke again insists that, to a place of “dearth”— ‘lack’ or famine— the soldiers bring back the personified characters of Holiness, Love and Pain. The soldiers in fact redeem the fallen world, like Christ.
“Honour has come back, as king, to earth”: the personification continues, here with Christ-like connotations: also a suggestion of the medieval myth of ‘the return of the king’— which brings restoration and new life to the land.
“…paid his subjects with a royal wage”: the metaphor of wealth given or paid to others continues. The soldier’s personal sacrifice and ‘gift’ has now become a greater gift to a nation, personified in the figure of the king, Honour, ruling over the land.
“Nobleness walks in our ways again”: The sextet, with its evocation of knightly chivalry, develops the Shakespearian notion of new-found nobility and a ‘gentled condition’ ruling over the land, after the willing sacrifice of men’s lives. If the Octet is concerned with the soldier’s loss, the sextet is concerned with what others have gained by their death.
“we have come into our heritage”: the people of Britain have inherited a different and ennobled country, full of virtue— thanks to the soldier’s sacrifice. This closing image collapses together the two metaphorical strands in the poem— of wealth and nobility— in the suggestion of children receiving their inheritance or land from their dead father.
[ANTHOLOGY NOTE: This second of Brooke’s sonnets is his attempt at an exceedingly common type of war poem— the memorial poem, or poem of remembrance. It can be compared to Brooke’s other great poem of remembrance, ‘The Soldier’ (p.163); also, to the sentiments expressed in other poems like McRae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ (p.165), Thomas’ ‘In Memoriam’ (p.179) and Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ (p.188).]
4 thoughts on “The Dead – Rupert Brooke”
The title is realistic and straight away we see that the writer is not trying to be euphemistic. Brooke writes, “Blow out bugles, over the rich Dead!” There is a soft alliteration in the first line is used to reflect love and Brooke is calling the dead “rich” to suggest that the soldiers who died have made themselves priceless because the went to fight for their country. In the second line writes of dead soldiers being “lonely and poor and old”. This is reminiscent of Wilfred Owen as he writes of them in a pitying manner. Yet Brooke also calls them more precious than “gold”. The rhyme shows Brooke is celebrating because “honour has come back”.
Rupert Brooke was a patriotic writer who loved glorious war. He believed that if you died for your country you were his brother and honourable. He uses religious imagery: “Honour has come back, as a king, to earth …And Nobleness walks in our ways again…” When Jesus Christ was crucified, he recieved ‘honour’ from many, and in the Book of Revelation it says that Jesus wll come back as king of the earth. Rupert Brooke rewards the soldiers who die for their countries by suggesting they are God-like.
Plutarchan???? Petrarchan, surely.
I think that poem, which seems reflective of that initial jingoistic and celebratory atmosphere at the start of the war, should be used to consider how such attitudes stunted the country’s grieving process, with citizens being called on to rejoice at what was ultimately a monumental loss of human life. To conceive of death as such is to neglect to consider the psychological impact of these attitudes on the family of the individual, who were called on not to grieve but to celebrate, particularly evident when he uses the metaphor “sweet wine of youth”, with its inherent allusions to classical myths of Baccus and his debaucherous revels- as well as those soldiers who, after being conditioned to accept the inevitability of their deaths, found themselves spared. In attempting to elevate death and honour those soldiers that fought, by focusing on the redemptory nature of their deaths, Brooke’s is unable to truly relate the actual struggle of the soldiers or harsh trench conditions, as later poets did, and I think this is where the ‘remembrance’ poem fails to truly commemorate the soldiers. The sacrifice is alluded to, but the flowery, sibilant poem softens it beyond recognition.