Safety in death

We’ve fallen behind again in posting Dalrymple’s British Medical Journal columns. On May 18th he discussed the early deaths of famous poets, particularly Rupert Brooke:
Rupert Brooke died aged 27 in 1915, and his books immediately went through many impressions: more, I suspect, than if he had survived. His most famous poems are the five sonnets he wrote in 1914 in which he seems to dwell on the noble sacrifice of youth in war: “These laid the world away; poured out the red / Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be / Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene, / That men call age …”
He suggested that in dying, men were achieving the highest kind of safety: “Safe shall be my going, / Secretly armed against all death’s endeavour; / Safe though all safety’s lost; safe where men fall; / And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.”
Because Brooke was a convinced atheist without any belief in an afterlife, eternal oblivion seemed to be his conception of the highest good or at least the highest security; though, in contradiction, he often extolled the beauty of existence, the sheer joy of living. We should remember that he was a poet, not a philosopher.

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