The Soldier by Rupert Brooke

Soldier in foxhole holding radiotelephone receiver

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The poem "The Soldier" is one of English poet Rupert Brooke's (1887–1915) most evocative and poignant poems—and an example of the dangers of romanticizing World War I, comforting the survivors but downplaying the grim reality. Written in 1914, the lines are still used in military memorials today.

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.
Rupert Brooke, 1914

About the Poem

"The Soldier" was the last of five poems of Brooke's War Sonnets about the start of World War I. As Brooke reached the end of his series, he turned to what happened when the soldier died, while abroad, in the middle of the conflict. When "The Soldier" was written, the bodies of servicemen were not regularly brought back to their homeland but buried nearby where they had died. In World War I, this produced vast graveyards of British soldiers in "foreign fields," and allows Brooke to portray these graves as representing a piece of the world that will be forever England. Writing at the start of the war, Brooke prefigured the vast numbers of soldiers whose bodies, torn to shreds or buried by shellfire, would remain buried and unknown as a result of the methods of fighting that war.

For a nation desperate to turn the senseless loss of its soldiers into something that could be coped with, even celebrated, Brooke’s poem became a cornerstone of the remembrance process and is still in heavy use today. It has been accused, not without merit, of idealizing and romanticizing war, and stands in stark contrast to the poetry of Wilfred Owen (1893–1918). Religion is central to the second half of "The Soldier," expressing the idea that the soldier will awake in a heaven as a redeeming feature for his death in war.

The poem also makes great use of patriotic language: it is not any dead soldier, but an "English" one, written at a time when to be English was considered (by the English) as the greatest thing to be. The soldier in the poem is considering his own death but is neither horrified nor regretful. Rather, religion, patriotism, and romanticism are central to distracting him. Some people regard Brooke’s poem as among the last great ideals before the true horror of modern mechanized warfare was made clear to the world, but Brooke had seen action and knew well of a history where soldiers had been dying on English adventures in foreign countries for centuries and still wrote it.

About the Poet

An established poet before the outbreak of World War I, Rupert Brooke had traveled, written, fallen in and out of love, joined great literary movements, and recovered from a mental collapse all before the declaration of war, when he volunteered for the Royal Naval Division. He saw combat action in the fight for Antwerp in 1914, as well as a retreat. As he awaited a new deployment, he wrote the short set of five 1914 War Sonnets, which concluded with one called The Soldier. Soon after he was sent to the Dardanelles, where he refused an offer to be moved away from the front lines—an offer sent because his poetry was so well-loved and good for recruiting—but died on April 23rd, 1915 of blood poisoning from an insect bite that weakened a body already ravaged by dysentery.

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Your Citation
Wilde, Robert. "The Soldier by Rupert Brooke." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Wilde, Robert. (2020, August 27). The Soldier by Rupert Brooke. Retrieved from Wilde, Robert. "The Soldier by Rupert Brooke." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 30, 2023).