‘The Dead’ by Rupert Brooke is a short poem that speaks on what waits for “the dead” in the afterlife. The poem is made up of two stanzas and the first rhymes in a pattern of ABABCDCD, while the second rhymes, EEFGFG. The indention of the lines of the stanza matches this back and forth rhythm. This piece is almost uniform in the length of its lines and the number of syllables per line, ranging from ten to twelve.
The poem beings with the description of the kinds of lives that one group of “dead” have lived. This group can be considered to be a specific collection of people or a metaphor for all those that have, and will, die. This gives the poem a universal theme, relatable to any who reads it.
Those that are ‘The Dead” lived lives that were full of both “joys and cares.” They were filled with “sorrow” that was quick to turn to “mirth” and have lived many years that filled them with kindness. These were good, decent people who had lived through all “the colours of the earth.”
The second stanza of the poem describes what heaven is like for “the dead” when they get there. It is made from only the joys of life and it is perpetually light. Additionally, they are and always will be surrounded by God’s “Unbroken glory.”
Analysis of The Dead
These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.
The first of the two stanzas that make up “The Dead” by Rupert Brooke begins with the introduction of those who are “The Dead.” These characters, though the reader will never know exactly who they are, if they are specific people or a general way to reference human beings who have passed on, will be deeply relatable.
Brooke, in his choice to write about death, has chosen a subject that is universally relatable. It transcends the time period in which it was written and can be understood by those alive now, and then. This gives the poem a kind of power as it attempts to soothe the reader’s path towards death.
The poem describes the dead, those that have passed on, as having “hearts [that] were” made up of both “joys and cares.” This is the first of a number of complementary contrasts that Brooke will present in this piece. Just as any life is, these referenced “dead” have hearts that experienced joy as well as worry over “cares.” Additionally, they were “washed marvellously” with the experiences of “sorrow” that was “swift to [change to] mirth.”
Their hearts were covered, consumed, and were living within the rapid transitions between unbridled happiness, or “mirth,” and sorrow. They were consumed by neither, but living within both.
The years that these characters had lived, the speaker says, has imbued them with “kindness.” They experienced “dawn[s]” as well as “sunset[s].” Their lives spanned the entire spectrum of human experience and emotion.
During their lives, they lived through all the “colours of the earth” and knew what it was to “Slumber” and wake. They knew what it was to love and be loved by friends.
This stanza concludes with the speaker stating a final contrast, they knew, as all humans do, the “quick stir of wonder” at something unexpected and how it feels to “sit alone.” Finally, throughout their lives, they “Touched” all manner of objects, and ways of living expressed in this verse as touching, “flowers and furs and cheeks.”
All of this, all the experiences of life, sorrow, happiness, and love, are now over. It has all “ended.”
There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.
The second stanza of this piece picks up after “the dead” have finally passed on. These lines describe what it is like to die and what the afterlife is bringing them. Brooke paints a beautiful, tranquil image of a world beyond death, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It is a reflection of a life that is greater in its radiance and peace.
He begins by having his speaker state that “There are waters” being blown in different directions, from the sorrows of human life to the “laughter” that will be found afterwards. The world in which “the dead” are now existing is “lit” all throughout the day by “rich skies,” full of sun.
The speaker goes on to describe another part of the day in which after “the waves” have danced, they are then stilled by “Frost,” who with a “gesture” stops their “wandering loveliness.” This peaceful image of the next world coexisting and coalescing its beauty has been written in the hope that those who read it will be comforted in their fear of death.
Brooke continues on this path, crafting a world of beauty, by saying that “He,” presumably God, “leaves” throughout this world, “a white / Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance.” All of God’s power, beauty, and mercy are bound together and at their peak in this heaven.
The poem is concluded with the speaker stating that this “radiance” is gathered into the “width” of the world. It is all imbued with “a shining peace.” There is nowhere one could wander, even “under the night,” in which one would not find God’s “Unbroken glory.”
About Rupert Brooke
Rupert Brooke was born in August of 1887 in Rugby, Warwickshire, England. As a young man enrolled in the same school in which his father was a master, Brookes excelled at sports as well as academics. He eventually would go on to attend King’s College, Cambridge, graduating in 1906.
Throughout the next years of his life, Brooke travelled throughout England and Europe and in 1911 he published his volume Poems. His most acclaimed work, 1914, published in 1915, brought him fame and is the source of his most well-known poems today.
At the beginning of World War I, he received a commission with the Royal Navy. He would not survive the war, contracting septicemia in Skyros, Greece, and dying soon after in 1915.