The Grave and The Rose

Victor Hugo

‘The Grave and The Rose’ by Victor Hugo is an intriguing poem that inquires and attempts to answer essential questions about death and change.


Victor Hugo

Nationality: French

Victor Hugo is considered to be one of the greatest authors and world literature.

He died in 1885 after publishing novels and poems.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: Change like death is a transcendent and beautiful part of life

Speaker: A grave and a rose

Emotions Evoked: Faith, Joyfulness, Missing Someone

Poetic Form: Parable

Time Period: 19th Century

Victor Hugo's poem offers a movingly sublime commentary on death and change as viewed from the naively innocent but lucidly revelatory point of view of a personified grave and rose.

To say that Victor Hugo was a poet immensely preoccupied with meditations on death is perhaps a grave understatement. But his focus on the subject, fueled by personal grief and altruistic empathy, led to some heart-achingly sincere and beautiful lines of verse on the matter. The poem ‘The Grave and The Rose’ might not be his most well-known or favored, but it does reveal his seemingly endless capacity for discussing the ramifications of death on life.

What is interesting about this Hugo poem, in particular, is the way the poet appears to somewhat distance himself from death itself, taking on the persona of a grave and rose, as opposed to the first-person human narrator that usually serves as his speaker. The result is a poem that uses two heavily symbolic images/personified characters to comment on the necessity of change in the world around us and that such alterations (like death) are ineffably beautiful by design.

The Grave and The Rose
Victor Hugo

The Grave said to the Rose,"What of the dews of dawn,Love's flower, what end is theirs?""And what of spirits flown,The souls whereon doth closeThe tomb's mouth unawares?"The Rose said to the Grave.

The Rose said, "In the shadeFrom the dawn's tears is madeA perfume faint and strange,Amber and honey sweet.""And all the spirits fleetDo suffer a sky-change,More strangely than the dew,To God's own angels new,"The Grave said to the Rose.


‘The Grave and The Rose’ by Victor Hugo depicts a conversation about the fate of things after they expire.

‘The Grave and The Rose’ unfolds as a dialogue between a grave and a rose. The first stanza sees them asking each other a question that is subsequently answered in the second stanza. The grave begins the conversation by asking the rose about the fate of “the dews of dawn” after they’ve melted away, while the rose asks a similar question about those “spirits flown” who’ve died.

The rose answers first in the second stanza, describing how “the dawn’s tears” are made into “a perfume faint and strange, / Amber and honey sweet.” In other words, the dew undergoes an elemental transformation from a glistening liquid to a pleasingly scented aroma. Unsurprisingly, the grave’s reply parallels the one given by the rose: “And all the spirits fleet / Do suffer a sky-change.” Much like the dew’s transformation, the souls of the dead also head skyward to become “God’s own angels new.”

Structure and Form

‘The Grave and The Rose’ is composed of two stanzas, one with seven lines and one with nine. The poem has an erratic rhyme scheme of ‘ABCBACD EEFGGFHHA.’ Most of the lines in the poem employ iambic trimester, meaning that each line is composed of three pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables.

This results in relatively short lines that curb the dialogue between the grave and the rose, turning their questions and answers into a series of abrupt images and concepts rather than a single continuous expression. But it also contributes to the poem’s childlike voice and naivete.

Literary Devices

‘The Grave and The Rose’ mainly uses imagery and figurative language. There is personification: “The Grave said to the Rose” (1); “The tomb’s mouth unawares?” (6); “The Rose said to the Grave” (7); “The dawn’s tears” (9). As well as metaphor: “spirits flown” (4); “sky-change” (13). There is also visual imagery: “the dews of dawn” (2), and olfactory imagery: “A perfume faint and strange, / Amber and honey sweet” (10-11).

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

The Grave said to the Rose,
“What of the dews of dawn,
Love’s flower, what end is theirs?”
“And what of spirits flown,
The souls whereon doth close
The tomb’s mouth unawares?”
The Rose said to the Grave.

The first stanza of ‘The Grave and The Rose’ is comprised of two successive questions spoken by a personified grave and rose to one another. The grave asks the rose about the fate of the morning dew while the rose inquires in turn about where souls go after death. The questions emphasize a parallel between the dew and those “spirits flown” (4) that instills some of the similarities between the two.

The stanza’s visual imagery also implies a material and optical likeness as well. The image of the “dews of dawn” (2) manifests an incandescent and slightly ethereal view of the water droplets that have collected in the early morning moisture. This vivid piece of imagery stays with the reader when the rose asks about the “souls whereon doth close / The tomb’s mouth” (6). Entangling the radiant dew with the typically vaporous and ghostly mental image people seem to conjure up when imagining a soul.

Stanza Two

The Rose said, “In the shade
From the dawn’s tears is made
A perfume faint and strange,
Amber and honey sweet.”
“And all the spirits fleet
Do suffer a sky-change,
More strangely than the dew,
To God’s own angels new,”
The Grave said to the Rose.

The second stanza of ‘The Grave and The Rose’ provides the respective answers to the questions asked by the grave and the rose. Answering first, the flower describes how “dawn’s tears [are] made / A perfume faint and strange” (9-10). On the surface, what the rose is describing is the dew’s evaporation into the air and/or its absorption into the plant.

The essential point of their answers is to emphasize that although the dew itself might appear to no longer exist, it still does in the “amber and honey sweet” (11) scent left behind. While the description of the dew as tears implies they are mourned for — not unlike the souls of the dead are grieved over by their loved ones — creating another parallel between the two.

The grave’s answer also emphasizes an airy transcendence: “And the spirits fleet / Do suffer a sky-change” (12-13). This “sky-change” parallels the dew’s evaporation into the air and results in the souls becoming “God’s own angels new” (15). But the grave indicates that although this process might be analogous to the dew, the transformation of souls occurs “more strangely than the dew” (14), highlighting the sublime and ambiguous transition souls undergo.


What is the theme of ‘The Grave and The Rose?

The poem’s theme is that certain transfigurations — like death — are inherent pieces of life that should not be feared. After all, elemental changes occur every day around us and often without our notice. So whether it is the dew melting or a loved one passing away, the poem urges us to take comfort in the fact that they are both never truly gone. Be it a sensory memory we cling to or the faith that they’ve transcended to an ethereal plain of existence, both offer comfort.

Why did Victor Hugo write ‘The Grave and The Rose?

Hugo was a poet acquainted with the tragedy of unexpectedly losing a loved one. So it is unsurprising that his poetry is often occupied by questions about death, grief, and how to renew a life made vacant by a beloved’s absence. But compared to some of his other poems, this one wrestles with the question of death at arm’s length. Opting for the personified perspective of a grave and rose as opposed to that of a person who has just lost someone.

What tenets of Romanticism are found in the poem?

The way the poem deals with questions of death and the afterlife, as well as the lush presence of nature throughout, make it a great example of Romantic verse. But even just the title alone highlights those tenets. Hugo uses perhaps the most archetypal images possible for Romanticism — a grave and a rose — as the primary characters and symbols for his poem.

Why is dew comparable to souls?

Apart from inspiring visually similar images in the reader’s mind, they also have thematic similarities as well. Just like the dew, the bodies from which souls depart are fleeting and exist for a relatively short period of time. They’re also immensely fragile: the sun evaporates even dew that’s shaded, and the corporeal figures that hold the soul are just as vulnerable. This also underscores the favorable meekness to dew that a Romantic like Hugo would have appreciated as a desirable analogy to humanity’s sublime minuteness.

Similar Poems

If you enjoyed ‘The Grave and The Rose,’ be sure to read these other poems by Victor Hugo as well:

  • ‘More Strong Than Time’ – this poem describes the invigorating effect love has on a person.
  • ‘Tomorrow, At Dawn’ – this poem also deals with death, conveying intense grief through a journey to the grave of a loved one.
  • ‘Sunset’ – this poem also sees the poet exploring the nature of death and its relationship with time.

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The Grave and The Rose

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Victor Hugo (poems)

Victor Hugo

This poem by Victor Hugo offers a hopeful and faith-filled perception of death, one that tries to soothe the reader with its ethereal imagery and figurative language into viewing it as just another kind of change experienced in the course of life. It is a beautiful poem that uses personification to comment on human death.
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19th Century

Hugo was a 19th-century poet who was part of the Romantic movement. As a result, this poem crucially displays a number of the literary movement's central tenets. Most prominently is the poem's title and how it borrows two emphatically Romantic symbols: a rose and a grave. It is also a great example of why Hugo's poetry still has the ability to move the reader even centuries later.
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Hugo was an important French writer well-known for his novels and poetry alike. Many of his poems deal with heavy themes like death and grief, but they also express a powerful humanism and faith. This is one such poem, as it offers a beautiful glimpse into the poet's views on lofty views on death.
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Hugo's poem both portrays and regards death in very different ways than compared with some of his other poems. For one, the poem is told not from the perspective of a human in grief but rather from that of a rose and a grave. This renders death strangely different and far more ethereal, as well intertwined with nature.
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Both the rose and the grave, as much as they can perceive death, do not see it as the end. Instead, death is more of a transition phase between life and the afterlife. This, of course, reveals Hugo's religious faith and his belief in the immortality of all souls. Yet, it also underscores his passionate optimism in the face of tragedy.
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As a Romantic poet, it should not come as a surprise that nature plays a large thematic role in Hugo's poem. It is the world in which the poem unfolds, and it is through analogies to nature that death is better understood or at least rendered less fearful. This also emphasizes the poet's belief that nature helped one better understand the world.
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Faith is expressed throughout the poem. Hugo himself was an extremely religious person, and such elements of his spirituality often found their way into his verse. This poem is no different and reveals his belief in the immortality of the soul. Even if you do not share the poet's faith, there is something admirable about his steadfast hope.
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A sense of joyfulness pervades the poem. Unlike other poems by Hugo, this one does not approach death from the perspective of grief. Instead, it answers a question about death from a religious and romantic stance. It is described through the poet's otherworldly imagery that finds reverence in every element of nature, life, and death.
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Missing Someone

Although the poem is not about the death of a loved one, it still might inspire such feelings as missing someone who has passed away. For those who share a similar faith to Hugo, the poem offers comfort in the immortality of the soul. But it also is entangled with romantic notions of transcendence and can also be comforting for those who do not share his faith.
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Angels are directly named in the poem, making them an adjacent topic to its motifs of nature and death. The grave describes in its answer to the rose how the souls of the dead become angels—creating a parallel between the souls/angels and the dew/aroma that are mentioned by the rose. In this way, the poem further emphasizes the relationship between religion and nature.
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Personification is central to the poem, providing a unique means through which Hugo discusses death and the afterlife. In personifying the rose and grave, he also borrows two crucial symbols of Romanticism. The result is a poem that sometimes feels slightly surreal in both imagery and figurative language, adding to its transcendent atmosphere.
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The rose is a common and still powerful symbol of love and passion. In using the rose as a character within the poem, Hugo offers up the perfect foil for the grave, which represents death. But these two figures are not as opposing as people perceive them. As the poem presents them as engaging in a friendly dialogue about the fate of things after they've passed on.
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Transformation is also important to the poem's themes. The transformation that Hugo settles on is death, using the rose and the grave to reveal the way such change is inherent to life as a whole. Whether in nature or in the daily lives of people, the poem tries to comfort the reader with the understanding that death is just another kind of change.
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The poem resembles a religious parable that is told as a means of helping someone understand death. Much like in a parable, a specific mystery is questioned and then elucidated on. In the poem, the rose and the grave play both roles, providing an analogy through which people can better understand death.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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