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

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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."