During the First World War, death was a constant threat. Soldiers faced it every day in the trenches, and more succumbed to it. Rudyard Kipling’s Epitaphs of War represents the impact those deaths had across much of the world. “The Bridegroom” exposes the last thoughts of a dying soldier through an extended metaphor, personification and tone.
First of all, the title and first stanza reveal that the speaker, a young soldier, is either dying or already dead. Traditionally, a bridegroom defines a man on his wedding day. In this poem, Kipling personifies the bride as death and therefore the title refers to a man on his last day. The speaker is a soldier fighting in the trenches, writing or at least speaking out to his wife back home. The first stanza initiates the apologetic and sorrowful tone that is used throughout the poem. The soldier asks his wife not to call him “false” as he rests in other arms. He apologizes to his beloved for abandoning her for a new mistress, death. The arms not only represent death’s embrace, but they also evoke falling to the weapons of the enemy in battle. The stanza also demonstrates that the couple’s marriage is recent as the speaker mentions his wife’s “scarce-known breast.”
The second stanza clearly brings forward the poem’s theme. The soldier mentions his “more ancient bride,” death. She is qualified as ancient because she has always existed, not only with him but since the beginning of time. He also describes a cold embrace, the word cold working on several levels here. It refers to the deceased and his rigidity, but it also expresses his reluctance to follow death. By calling her “constant,” Kipling emphasizes the reality of death on the battlefield; she was faithful and always lurked over the soldier.
The third stanza describes how the young man escaped from his “often set marriage” with death through unexplained miracles. We can suppose that he narrowly survived several life-threatening events, thereby cheating death, which relates back to his “cheating” on his living marriage. His “new” marriage is now perceived as “consummate,” a term which is usually used for unions made complete through the sexual act. This union, however, refers to the soldier’s falling into death’s embrace, finally touching her after a long apprehension and ultimately lying in her bed, his grave.
The term “consummate” can also represent perfection, which, in this marriage refers to the fact that it was meant to be. The last line reinforces the consummation by saying that the union “cannot be unmade.” Death cannot be unmade; it is a permanent state as the ideal marriage is, but it also returns to the metaphorical bed which will forever remain unmade.
In the last stanza, the tone reaches a lull, yet is still filled with sorrow. The speaker urges his wife to “live,” to move on and allow life to “cure” her of the painful memory of him. Kipling uses a metaphor to treat memories as a painful disease that can only be cured by time. The soldier expresses fear of being forgotten with the word “almost.” He wants to be remembered although he mostly desires for his beloved to regain happiness. The final two lines return to a more somber tone as the soldier states he will have to endure the “immortality” of memories in death.
In the end, we can feel the young man has a greater acceptance of his state as he begins using the pronoun “us” to qualify himself and death. The marriage, having been consummated, as previously stated, they are now one. Immortality is an evocative word, which fits perfectly into the general theme. The soldier is now immortal, fixed in time with his memories and never able to make new ones. The term also refers back to death, which is immortal in its own way.
To conclude, Rudyard Kipling’s “The Bridegroom’ expresses the difficult process associated with death. The various metaphors and personification bring forward the themes in an apologetic, somber tone. The nameless soldier represents all young men who died young unfairly in the trenches, afraid of being disloyal to their countries.