The Soldier by Rupert Brooke

“The Soldier” A Detailed Look at a Criticized Poem Grief, death, devastation: with the strong exception of Rupert Brooke, these were the themes reflected in most war poetry during WWI. Brooke laced his poetry with sentimentality and nationalism, which was very different from the themes of other works during the time. Many people love and admire his poems, but despite his poetry being criticized by the public, Rupert Brooke was a talented young poet throughout World War I. This poem was first published in Brooke’s book of sonnets, 1914 rightly named for the year they were authored.

WWI was an influential time for poetry and a catalyst for an important movement in poetry; war poetry. The poetry of this time reflected the feelings of the general public at the commencement of WWI. Brooke’s “The Soldier,” though seen as a hymn to the great nation of England during WWI, is today seen as overly sentimental and as romanticizing the horrors of the war through strong figurative language and symbols (“The Soldier”). The theme reflected most prominently in “The Soldier,” patriotism, is seen again in many of Brooke’s war sonnets, but not commonly in the poetry of emerging poets during the war.

Brooke is notorious for his use of sentimentality and nationalism in his war poetry. The voice in “The Soldier” talks about his untimely death in a fiercely patriotic manner, undaunted by his likely demise. When referring to the foreign field in which he will be buried, he describes it with “…there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England. There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed” (Brooke). In these lines Brooke is saying that the dust, the earth, in which he is buried in will be richer because an English soldier lies in it; because a piece of England lies beneath the earth.

Through this statement, Brooke is associating the soldier in the poem with England, making him not just English, but England. Patriotism shines through again in the next lines, “A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,/ Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,/ A body of England’s, breathing English air…” (Brooke). “A body of England’s” supports Brooke’s embodiment of soldiers as not only English, but England. It is these examples of Brooke’s strong patriotism reflected in his poetry that created the riticism for its maudlin nature (“The Soldier”). In continuation, the second most prominent theme employed by Brooke is the notion of transformation, which is distinguished clearly throughout “The Soldier. ” The second stanza was a prime example of the conversion displayed in the poem. The line in the second stanza, “And think, this heart, all evil shed away” (Brooke) implies a transformation from a soldier, ordinary and human, to a cleansed soul who will live forever through England.

The second stanza is saying that with death for your country comes great honor and transformation into a pure soul, forever remembered for fighting to the end for their country. By making yourself a martyr, you have “cleansed your soul” and this is a great transformation. This idea is what inspired soldiers to be willing to die for their country, and to want to fight for England. Brooke is saying that there is a larger purpose that can be achieved through death, which is another example of Brooke romanticizing the war and death.

To soldiers, the thought of being transformed into a great soul, forever linked to your nation because of your connection with England, is consistent throughout, which is why transformation is a prominent theme of the poem (“The Soldier”). The figurative language in “The Soldier” defines the poem and displays the message, but also supports the fact that Brooke’s poem approaches the horrors of war in an indirect and romantic manner. When Brooke refers to “some corner of a foreign field” he is using the field as a symbol for the simple graveyards soldiers were buried in.

Here, Brooke is addressing the war in a lighter tone, which critic Chris Semansky criticized Brooke for. The line in “The Soldier” addressing how the earth in which an English soldier is richer again uses a light symbol for a serious subject of war. Brooke refers to dust as a body in the line, “In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;” (Brooke). Dust is used again in the next line, “A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware…” (Brooke). In both lines “dust” is a symbol for a dead soldier. Another example of Brooke’s figurative language is his repetition of England in his poem.

This is another prime example of the theme of patriotism that is presented throughout in “The Soldier. ” Critic Bruce Meyer calls attention to more use of symbols in the poem, including the line, “And think, this heart, all evil shed away” (Brooke) which is symbolizing a man being purified before offering himself as a lamb to the slaughter (Meyer). The poem also uses an Petrarchan and Shakespearean rhyme scheme, using an alternating rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD rhyme scheme in the first stanza, which is Shakespearean, and then in the second stanza, a EFGEFG rhyme scheme, which is Petrarchan.

Many of Brooke’s poems use a Shakespearean alternation rhyme scheme consistently. The entire style of the poem remains “English,” polite and “gentlemanly,” and the style matches the figurative language and poetry techniques used: symbols to lighten the poetry’s subject and a Shakespearean rhyme scheme (“The Soldier”). Furthermore, the time in which Brooke’s “The Soldier” was written is crucial to understanding not only the poem, but why “The Soldier” has slipped from a famous to infamous piece of literature. The poem was written in 1914, at the beginning of WWI, during which Brooke had enlisted in the Royal Naval Division.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Sarajevo, his wife, were murdered by Serbian nationalists, which had catapulted England into WWI (“The Soldier”). This was a time when England was sending their young men off to fight, without the assurance that they would return home. The public was coping with the deaths of their sons and husbands, and Brooke’s poem was playing to the times. It was a reassurance to the general public about the war and the death occurring, and its strong level of patriotism was met with the public’s own patriotism, as critic Semansky reiterates (“Semansky”).

Brooke had war experience himself, through the Royal Naval Division, but was not fighting on the front lines or having any major experiences in war. He spent his first assignment assisting civilians in the evacuation of Antwerp, though he was originally assigned to help hold down the Channel ports with the navy. He did not complete his next assignment, to take back Constantinople from the Turks, because of his death, of fever, on the way to Gallipoli. Brooke did not have the immense war experience many other poets of the war had, and it influenced the demeanor of his poetry.

Other war poets, Sassoon, Owens and Rosenburg did not adopt Brooke’s heavily patriotic views, but rather questioned his attitude towards the war. By the public, “The Soldier” was revered, but as the war continued, and eventually ended and the horrors of the war made themselves more evident, “The Soldier” was thought of as sentimental literature, and not as a personification of the war (“The Soldier”). In conclusion, Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier” reflected the attitude of England during the start of WWI, a comparison which has made it both famous and infamous.

The historical context of the poem, the background being WWI, is a key to complete understanding the poem and the reason for its notoriousness. “The Soldier” gives you a small insight into the ideology of soldiers and the public, who were looking for a deeper meaning for the death and destruction occurring. Through this, the poem informs your understanding of Rupert Brooke’s reactions to England, the war, and the mayhem of the beginning of the war.

His general attitude towards the war was strongly patriotic, and criticized for being as sentimental as it was. Brooke, as you can determine through the poem, felt that death during the war was a sacrifice for England that would ultimately be rewarded in the afterlife, and that it was the greatest show of devotion that one could show for their country. He felt strongly for England, and appealed to the people, but his poetry lost its appeal as the war progressed and the lightness in which Brooke regarded the war was recognized (Semansky).

Through the fact that “The Soldier” was accepted during 1914, you can make the connection that the public shared Brooke’s view of hope for a deeper meaning to the war and death. “The Soldier” meshes with Rupert Brooke’s ideology, experiences and style, as well as with the time period. Though Brooke’s fiercely patriotic and light take on WWI in “The Soldier” strongly appealed to the public as they coped with loss during the commencement of WWI, its sentimentality has been criticized for romanticizing the war and masking the true horrors England was experiencing.

If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is for ever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England’s, breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home. And think, this heart, all evil shed away, A pulse in the eternal mind, no less Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given; Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness, In hearts at peace, under an English heaven. WORKS CITED: Brooke, Rupert. “The Soldier. ” Poet’s Corner. 1914. http://www. theotherpages. org/poems/brooke01. html. Meyer, Bruce. “The Soldier. ” Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary Ruby and Ira Milne. Vol. 7. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2000. 217-227. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Springfield Township High School. 9 Nov. 2008 <http://infotrac. galegroup. com/itweb/? db=GVRL>. Semansky, Chris. The Soldier. ” Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary Ruby and Ira Milne. Vol. 7. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2000. 217-227. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Springfield Township High School. 9 Nov. 2008 <http://infotrac. galegroup. com/itweb/? db=GVRL>. “The Soldier. ” Poetry for Students. Ed. Mary Ruby and Ira Milne. Vol. 7. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2000. 217-227. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale. Springfield Township High School. 9 Nov. 2008 <http://infotrac. galegroup. com/itweb/? db=GVRL>.

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