Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)
In the first stanza (the octave of the sonnet) stanza, he talks about how his grave will be England herself, and what it should remind the listeners of England when they see the grave. In the second stanza, the sestet, he talks about this death (sacrifice for England) as redemption; he will become “a pulse in the eternal mind”. He concludes that only life will be the appropriate thing to give to his great motherland in return for all the beautiful and the great things she has given to him, and made him what he is. The soldier-speaker of the poem seeks to find redemption through sacrifice in the name of the country.
The speaker begins by addressing the reader, and speaking to them in the imperative: “think only this of me.” This sense of immediacy establishes the speaker’s romantic attitude towards death in duty. He suggests that the reader should not mourn. Whichever “corner of a foreign field” becomes his grave; it will also become “forever England”. He will have left a monument of England in a forever England”. He will have left a monument in England in a foreign land, figuratively transforming a foreign soil to England. The suggestion that English “dust” must be “richer” represents a real attitude that the people of the Victorian age actually had.
The speaker implies that England is mother to him. His love for England and his willingness to sacrifice is equivalent to a son’s love for his mother; but more than an ordinary son, he can give his life to her. The imagery in the poem is typically Georgina. The Georgian poets were known for their frequent mediations in the English countryside. England’s “flowers”, “her ways to roam”, and “English air” all represent the attitude and pride of the youth of the pre-industrial England; many readers would excuse the jingoistic them of this poem if they remember that this soldier’s bravery and sense of sacrifice is far better than the modern soldier and warfare in which there is nothing grand about killing people with automated machine guns! The soldier also has a sense of beauty of his country that is in fact a part of his identity. In the final line of the first stanza, nature takes on a religious significance for the speaker. He is “washed by the rivers”, suggesting the purification of baptism, and “blest by the sun of home.” In the second stanza, the sestet, the physical is left behind in favor of the spiritual. If the first stanza is about the soldier’s thought of this world and England, the second is about his thoughts of heaven and England (in fact, and English heaven).
In the sestet, the soldier goes on to tell the listener what to think of him if he dies at war, but he presents a more imaginative picture of himself. He forgets the grave in the foreign country where he might die, and he begins to talk about how he will have transformed into an eternal spirit. This means that to die for England is the surest way to get a salvation: as implied in the last line, he even thinks that he will become a part of an English heaven. The heart will be transformed by death. All earthly “evil” will be shed away. Once the speaker has died, his soul will give back to England everything England has given to him- in other words, everything that the speaker has become. In the octave, the speaker describes his future grave in some far off land as a part of England; and in the sestet England takes on the role of a heavenly creator, a part of the “eternal mind” of God. In this way, dying for England gains the status of religious salvation, wherever he dies. Wherever he dies, his death for England will be a salvation of his soul. It is therefore the most desirable of all fates.
The images and praises of England run through both the stanzas. In the first stanza Brooke describes the soldier’s grave in a foreign land as a part of England; in the second, that actual English images abound. The sights, sounds, dreams, laughter, friends, and gentleness that England offered him during his life till this time are more than enough for him to thank England and satisfactorily go and die for her. The poet elaborates on what England has granted in the second stanza; ‘sights and sounds’ and all of his “dreams.” A “happy” England filled his life with “laughter” and “friends”, and England characterized by “peace” and “gentleness”. It is what makes English dust “richer” and what in the end guarantees “hearts at peace, under an English Heaven.”
This is a sonnet based on the two major types of the sonnet: Petrarchan or Italian and Shakespearean or English. Structurally, the poem follows the Petrarchan mode; but in its rhyme scheme, it is in the Shakespearean mode. In terms of the structure of ideas, the octave presents reflection; the sestet evaluates the reflection. The first eight lines (octave) is a reflection on the physical: the idea of the soldier’s “dust” buries in a “foreign field.” They urge the readers not to mourn this death, though they implicitly also create a sense of loss. The last six lines (sestet), however, promise redemption: “a pulse in the eternal mind…. under an English heaven”. The rhyme scheme is that of the Shakespearean sonnet: the octave and the sestet consist of three quatrains, rhyming abab cdcd efef and a final rhymed couplet gg. As in Shakespearean sonnets, the dominant meter is iambic.
Shrestha, Roma. "The Soldier by Rupert Brooke: Summary and Critical Analysis." BachelorandMaster, 18 Nov. 2013, bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanpoetry/the-soldier.html.