What are the symbols used in "Wake Not For The World- Heard Thunder," by A. E. Housman?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A.E. Housman's poem "Wake Not for the World-heard Thunder," is an elegy for a fallen soldier.  It is a moving poem addressed to a dead soldiers whose death allows him the rest he needs and the safety from the war's tumult.  The most obvious symbols used throughout the poem are that of sleep and wakefulness.  Sleep symbolizes death, a state that is for the soldier in this poem much more desired than that of living in the war.  The dead man can "clasp your cloak of earth about you," and "stretch his limbs in peace" while the living "march unled and fight short-handed." Wakefulness, in contrast, symbolizes life, and the pains and suffering of battle.

The sounds of battle are compared to an alarm clock that only the living can hear:  "the world-heard thunder," "the chime that earthquakes toll," "the fife with death-notes fillling."  In this way, the poem reads much as a lullaby, with soft, soothing entreaties to "wake not," "stir not," "sleep away, lad; wake no more."


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial