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My Inner Anthology: The Dead by Rupert Brooke

Written by Rachael Norris, 11th November 2020

Head of Shared Reading Programmes at The Reader, Helen Wilson, shares today's poem The Dead by Rupert Brooke. The theme for our daily readings in November is 'Light in the Dark' download the calendar here.

Today marks the 102nd anniversary of the end of the First World War; a time when we remember the lives lost not only then, but in all conflicts. Armistice Day sits within The Reader’s November theme Light in the Dark this year, but to reach too quickly for what good can come despite atrocities past and present would be out of place; we know too well the immediate and far reaching consequences of war.

The poetry from this time is well documented as an expression of the horror endured and seems to get us to places the history books can’t; a language for the inarticulate areas of human experience when all else seems to fail. We see something of this in Rupert Brooke’s The Dead, which rests its attention on the simple truth that every life is marked by beauty. Brooke knows – as poets seem to best – that the way into this reality is through the small moments and movements, as lived by individuals. Perhaps anything more would risk a greater loss than that already suffered; that people become numbers, their loss reduced to historical fact, their participation in shared human life somehow missed.

 

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.

 

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.

 

Rupert Brooke

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