Study Guide

If We Must Die Quotes

  • Mortality

    If we must die, let it not be like hogs (1)

    The speaker sees no alternative to death, like surrender or escape. This is a very desperate situation.

    Making their mock at our accursed lot. (4)

    The speaker sees this death as heroic, because death has been handed to him by chance or destiny.

    If we must die, O let us nobly die, (5)

    These phrases put two opposite feelings together: powerlessness and powerfulness.

    Shall be constrained to honor us though dead! (8)

    This could be lifted straight out of the Iliad or another Greek heroic epic, because the myth was that your afterlife lasted as long as living people remembered you.

    And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! (11)

    This is a very macho attitude towards death. The speaker does not intend to go down a victim.

    What though before us lies the open grave? (12)

    This is the scariest line in the poem; Shakespeare would have used something similar in the climax of one of his tragedies. The sentiment here is that, since they're absolutely going to die, they might as well go down fighting nobly.

    Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back! (14)

    Again, the speaker knows how the fight will end, but he doesn't intend to give himself up to feelings of defeat.

  • Warfare

    Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, (2)

    This is seen as dishonorable, because the victims don't appear to be shown any mercy. Though they are humans, they're hunted and treated like animals.

    Making their mock at our accursed lot. (4)

    The claimed nobility of hunting is that the hunted is killed in the quickest and least painful way, but the enemies do not obey this code of honor.

    Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, (10)

    The speaker and his allies are fighting an uneven battle, but he's still determined to fight bravely and die honorably – like a man instead of a hunted animal.

    Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack, (13)

    The hunting metaphor breaks down as the victims become men and the enemies are less noble.

  • Men and Masculinity

    Oh kinsmen! we must meet the common foe! (9)

    In such a "universal" poem, women seem to be left out of the story.

    Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack, (13)

    Notice how standing up to one's enemies defines what it means to be a "man." Do you interpret this line as defining what it means to be a "man" (as in human) as opposed to being an animal, or does this have something to do with gender as well?

  • Honor

    If we must die, let it not be like hogs (1)

    It doesn't matter how nicely you treat livestock, they do not die honorably.

    Making their mock at our accursed lot. (4)

    This is an insult to the speaker's honor.

    If we must die, O let us nobly die, (5)

    The speaker knows he's going to die, but wants to have control over the way he meets death. He chooses an "honorable" death instead of showing fear or trying to escape.

    Shall be constrained to honor us though dead! (8)

    Here we see that the speaker wants to make a statement with his death. By dying bravely, he wants to prove a point to his enemies, such that they must honor him.