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The Soldier -- Rupert Brooke

       
(Poem #280) The 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.
-- Rupert Brooke
Patriotism seems to be somewhat unfashionable nowadays. This is particularly
true with respect to war poetry, where patriotism often seems to be
conflated with jingoism, and spurned by the poet. Nor, in a way, is this
altogether wrong - the two World Wars (and, to a large extent, the poets who
served as their scribes and witnesses, embedding them in the racial memory)
have done a great deal towards deromanticising war, and exposing a sheltered
populace to its grim realities.

This inevitably gives today's poem a slightly old-fashioned flavour - the
poet is not, perhaps, glorifying war, but he certainly understands the
motivations that would encourage young men to 'throw their lives away', and
is not afraid of pronouncing them valid. To quote Margaret Lavington's
wonderful biographical note (see end),

  Each one of these five sonnets faces, in a quiet exultation, the thought
  of death, of death for England; and understands, as seldom even English
  poetry has understood, the unspeakable beauty of the thought:

      "These laid the world away; poured out the red
      Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
           Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene
           That men call age; and those who would have been,
      Their sons, they gave -- their immortality.

It is interesting to compare Brooke's poem with what is perhaps my favourite
war poem, Yeats' "An Irish Airman Foresees His Death". While at one level
the attitudes are diametrically opposed ("those that I guard, I do not
love", says Yeats' airman, dismissing patriotism as a game he's opted out
of), on a deeper level they are very similar - there is the same sense of
tension, the premonition of death and the deeply personal drive to go to war
anyway, so that the net effect is one not of fear but of a quiet
exhilaration - tinged with sadness, perhaps, but never with regret.

m.

Links:

Yeats' poem is at poem #32

Margaret Lavington's biography is too long to include, so I'll merely point
to it: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Delphi/7086/brookebionote.htm

And Bob Blair has a nice writeup on one of Brooke's other poems, The
Chilterns, a lot of which is relevant to The Soldier as well:
http://www.geocities.com/~bblair/990803.htm

43 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Krishnab said...

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Derek Timms said...

Hello,

I'm a student to doing architecture and have to design a writers retreat, I chose Rupert Broke as I like his poetry, I have found this wonderful site (a rock formation inwhich the building would be, situated in a valley-a war memorial rising from a trench in dedication to a war poet, building design based around his poem beauty And Beauty) for my building design but it is in the peak district, do you know of anyway I could connect Rupert Brooke's to the Peak District?

Thanks

Derek

Jamie-lee said...

I think that this poem convey deep emotional thoughts not of Brooke but of
the family I believe that it was wrote for them incase that he died, it
tells that no matter what he died for his country and that he is proud of it.

Thank you for listening to my thoughts Susie Warren

Please e-mail me back on as I am on my friends computer
Thank you

Ajit Narayanan said...

This poem most strongly reminds me of the speech that Nixon never gave, which would have been delivered if Armstrong and Aldrin had been stranded on the moon, due to any technical problems.
Though it is very moving, it was obviously written by a Brooke fan:

"Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace
will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

"These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no
hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for
mankind in their sacrifice.

"These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal:
the search for truth and understanding.

"They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be
mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the
world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her
sons into the unknown.

"In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as
one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

"In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the
constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are
epic men of flesh and blood.

"Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will
not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the
foremost in our hearts.

"For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come
will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever
mankind."

Bette Hambright said...

I believe this poem is an inspiration to everyone who served in some kind of war. It tells me that this soldier loves his country and would die for the cause of saving his country. It is a grwat poem. Thanks for having it on here, Kari G.

Gable Andrew said...

My comments aren't quite as educated, I suppose you could say, but "...
corner of some foreign field" was also used in a Pink Floyd album. "The
Final Cut" has a lot of references to nationalism as it applies to post
WW 1 and pre- WW 2 in England. I obviously have no idea about your music
or history appreciation, but it might be something to check out. Roger
Waters apparently lost his father in WWII.

Cheers,

---Andrew G

Fred Wollam said...

Last year, Brooke, his Soldier, and the attendant anti-war sentiments (and, along the way, Owen, Sassoon, and even Violet Asquith) have been further immortalized by Al (Year of the Cat) Stewart, in his soul-stirring anthem, Somewhere in England, 1915, on the CD A Beach Full of Shells.

I have no doubt Rupert himself would approve of Stewart's work here (poetry in its own right), not least because it has drawn Yanks such as us to his own poetry, and to the lore surrounding it.

Fred and Eileen in Nashville

colin pearce said...

Brilliant and thoughtfull.

Pelliesof said...

amazing poem love it xxx

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