Two Perspectives of the Great War: Analysis and Commentary of The Dead by Rupert Brooke and Survivors by Siegfried Sassoon


The literary creation produced as a consequence of the World War I (1914-1918) was highly prolific, not only during the war but also after it had finished. Thousands of poems were daily written by soldiers, describing their experiences in war (Literature, Wikipedia). One of the ‘war poets’ was Rupert Brooke who composed his well-known ‘War sonnets’, consisting in five poems written between December 1914 and the first days of January 1915, shortly before his death[1] (Actual Reaction). The third sonnet, ‘The Dead’, deals with the honour gained by the fallen soldiers. However, not all the poems transmit such a patriotic view of the Great War. Therefore, what I would like to do in this paper is to analyse and compare Rupert Brooke’s sonnet ‘The Dead’ with ‘Survivors’, an anti-war poem written by Siegfried Sassoon.

‘The Dead’ is an example of the early WWI poetry, characterised by being enthusiastic and patriotic (Rusche). The poem begins with a clear image of a military funeral. Using an alliteration repeated also in the second stanza, Brooke orders: ‘Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!’ (L. 1). According to Stuart Lee, the dead soldiers are rich for two reasons; first, because of their death and, second, because they died in a patriotic way, in combat (L. 13). Then, in L. 4 and 5, the author uses a soulful metaphor to describe the tremendous massacre of soldiers who ‘… poured out the red/ Sweet wine of youth…’ For this kind of idealistic image of the war, Charles Sorley[2] criticised him arguing that ‘He (Brooke) has clothed his attitude in fine words but he has taken the sentimental attitude’ (qtd. in Rusche).

On the contrary, based on his own experience as a soldier, Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967) writes about the cruel effects of war on the surviving soldiers. In ‘A Few Brief Notes on Sassoon’s Poetry’ there is a clear division of his poetry in periods.  In his early war poetry, Sassoon’s poem are characterised by an intense patriotism and a jubilation at physical activity, but, after the death of his brother Hamo and his own injury in April 1917, his poetry became more cynical and tried to demonstrate the cruelty of the war. However, it is in his Counter-Attack Poems, written when he was admitted in the Craiglickhart War Hospital in Edimburgh (Scotland) in July 1917, where we can see that his style became more direct, realistic, using intense images to express the horrors of the trench and making the reader feel guilty, through the use of the pronoun ‘you’(Brief Notes).  A poem that represents this period of his life isSurvivors’. This poem is full of irony as we can see in L. 1 when he says ‘No doubt they’ll soon get well…’, or in L. 2 when he affirms that the injured soldiers are vehemently predisposed to fight again. ‘Survivors’ also deals with a common war illness, shellshock. In L. 2, we can see one of its symptoms, stammer and the inability of producing coherent sentences (Groves). Finally, the poem ends with an accusation to the people who supported the Great War when it says ‘…with eyes that hate you…’ (L. 10).

As we could see, both poets present two different perspective of the WWI. However, we should consider that ‘The Dead’ was written at the beginning of the war, almost three years before ‘Survivors’. This is a highly significant point because, as Rolf P. Lessenich suggests, ‘Had Brooke not died in 1915, on his way to the Eastern Front and without the trench experience, he might well have come to write trench poems like Sassoon’s or Owen’s’.


Erika Giselle Wilson Cantariño




Brooke, Rupert. “The Dead”. Representative Poetry Online. U. of Toronto. 3 April 2006. “Rupert Brooke's Actual Reaction to War”. First World War Poetry.


Groves, Paul. “Literary Criticism of ‘Survivors’”. Virtual Seminary for Teaching Literature. 2 April 2006.


Lee, Stuart. “Literary Criticism of ‘III. The Dead’”. Virtual Seminary for Teaching Literature. 2 April 2006.


Lessenich, Rolf P. "Where Death Becomes Absurd And Life Absurder: Literary Views Of The Great War 1914-1918”. Erfurt Electronic Studies in English. Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhems-Universität Bonn. 3 April 2006. “A Few Brief Notes on Sassoon’s Poetry”. Highland Park Senior School.  3 April 2006.


Rusche, Harry. “Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915”. Lost Poets of the Great War. Emory University. 2 April 2006.


Sassoon, Siegfried. “Survivors”. : Great Books Online. 2 April 2006.


Wikipedia. . “Literature of World War I”. 2 April 2006.




[1] Rupert Brooke died poisoned from a mosquito bite in April 1915 at the age of 28 <>

[2]  Charles Hamilton Sorley was a British poet of World War I <>


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