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Literary Criticism of 'The Soldier' (Poem by Rupert Brooke)

Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Brooke observes the sonnet form (14 lines of iambic pentameter, divided into an octave and sestet), however the octave is rhymed after the Shakespearean/Elizabethan (ababcdcd) rhyme scheme, while the sestet follows the Petrarchan/Italian (efgefg). Brooke has also deviated somewhat from the traditional thematic divisions associated with the octave and sestet: question/predicament and resolution/solution, respectively. The octave and sestet both enjoin the reader to imagine the blissful state of the fallen soldier.

'The Soldier' is the culmination of Brooke's '1914' sonnet sequence. In 'The Soldier' Brooke invokes the ideas of spiritual cleansing (as found in 'Peace'), inviolable memories of the dead (as in 'Safety'), a hero's immortal legacy ('The Dead' III & IV), but now he combines all these specifically under the overarching framework of English heritage and personal loyalty to it. Although Dean Inge objected to the neo-paganism of Brooke's idea of resurrection,

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind[,]
'The Soldier' touched a nerve and inspired imitations. Some were close and complimentary as they sought a recognizable connection with Brooke's sonnet. For example 'To My Mother -- 1916' by Rifleman Donald S. Cox:
If I should fall, grieve not that one so weak
And poor as I
Should die.
Nay! Though thy heart should break
Think only this: that when at dusk they speak
Of sons and brothers of another one,
Then thou canst say--"I too had a son;
He died for England's sake!"
Edward Thomas (who was acquainted with Brooke) was probably musing on 'The Soldier' when he made up his little ditty to a bugle call -- 'No One Cares Less than I':
No one cares less than I,
Nobody knows but God,
Whether I am destined to lie
Under a foreign clod,
while Martin Stephen sees a "clear rebuttal" to 'The Soldier' in Charles Hamilton Sorley's sonnet 'When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead':
When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.
Associated, as it came to be, with the discredited idealistic attitudes of 1914, Rupert Brooke's sonnet 'The Soldier' suffered a similar fate. However, Stephen finds that "the personal element" in Brooke's sonnets distinquishes them from propaganda verse: "[w]hatever else they may be, Brooke's sonnets sum up admirably a mood that was felt by many people when war broke out."

LitCrit by: Robert Means
English Literature Librarian
Harold B. Lee Library
Brigham Young University


Source: www.oucs.ox.ac.uk
Image © Hulton Getty

Soldier

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.

You may interest to read more about Rupert Brooke:
Rupert Brooke Society
Work by Rupert Brooke on Project Gutenberg
Collected Poem by Rupert Brooke
Selected Poem by Rupert Brooke
Rupert Brooke, Biography, works and literary criticism

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