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The Soldier by Rupert Brooke

Today's poem is one of the most famous war poems, written during the first World War by an Englishman named Rupert Brooke. The poem is a soldier's request, in the event of his death. Brooke wrote the poem in 1914, and died the following year of blood poisoning. His bit of "for ever England" is indeed in a foreign field, on the island of Skyros. He himself became a symbol of the tragic loss of youth during World War I.

I know that Memorial Day is an American holiday, but this poem still works for me on this day as a means of remembering the men and women who have died in service to this country. I think of the "crosses, row on row" in Normandy, a corner of a foreign field that is for ever England and the United States. (A combined reference to today's poem and to In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.)

The Soldier
by Rupert Brooke

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.

Form: This poem is a sonnet, and is a modern sonnet in that Brooke mixes two forms of sonnet to arrive at his own rhyme scheme. The first eight lines are rhymed according to the Shakespearean model (ABABCDCD), and the final six are from the Petrarchan or Italianate model (EFGEFG). The poem is written in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM).

Discussion: The octave (first eight lines) describes the possible fate of Brooke's body - it was raised in England, so it is itself a small piece of England, wherever it may be buried. The sestet talks about Brooke's soul, which is (according to Brooke) eternally English. The poem is exceptionally idealistic and patriotic. It was widely imitated after it was first written and made known, but as the horrors of the war became widely known and the world fell into a general disillusionment in its aftermath, the poem became dismissed in some camps for its idealism. But oh, the aching beauty of it.

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