Rupert Brooke wrote "The Soldier" in 1914. It forms part of a series of poems, all written by Brooke. The poems were written as war sonnets at the onset of World War I.
"The Soldier" is a Petrarchan sonnet. It is split accordingly in two stanzas, an octave followed by a sestet. Also characteristic of a Petrarchan sonnet is the volta, or the turn in direction on the topic. This occurs at the start of the sestet. However, the rhyme scheme combined that of the English (or Shakespearean) sonnet and the Petrarchan sonnet. The rhyme scheme of the octave follows an ABABCDCD pattern, characteristic of the English sonnet. The sestet follows a CDECDE rhyme scheme.
If I should die, think only this of me:
From the first line, the reader is asked to pay close attention to what the speaker (henceforth referred to with male pronouns) has to say. The reader will be instructed on how best to commemorate the speaker once his time has come to pass. This is clearly a very important matter.
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
These two lines form a rather confusing sentence. How will a foreign place be another place, specifically England? The wording "some corner" also makes it sound like the place being referred to is out of the way and likely to be forgotten. This presents another type of conflict because the reader is being told how to remember the speaker.
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
As the stanza continues, the reader may continue to be confused. Now the speaker claims a "richer dust" will be covered by a "reach earth." By earth, the speaker most likely means dirt or soil. If the dirt is covering something, the conclusion of burial can be drawn and the three lines begin to come together.
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Now, the ideas formed from the previous lines really begin to be more cohesive to the reader. The "dust" that will be buried was born and raised by England. This strongly suggests the speaker is referring to himself. He will pass away and be buried; he will be forever English just as sure as he was born. With these observations, the lines "That there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England" make sense. The speaker is the piece of England and, should he die and be buried in a foreign land, that area right around him will be English.
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
The "her" in this line is England personified in a nurturing, or motherly, role. Along with the previous line, the reader truly begins to feel the strong attachment the speaker has with his homeland. The speaker’s English background is brought up within the first three lines of the poem and further explored as it progresses.
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
The speaker’s attachment to England becomes all the more evident in these lines. He is not only very devoted to his homeland, but very proud of it as well. This is perfectly plausible given he is a soldier and out fighting for his country. He even goes so far as to claim his body belongs to England. "A body of England’s" sounds quite possessive, given the use of the word of rather than for. He is entirely English and belongs to England, so much so he has proudly served his country’s military force. It is unclear if the soldier is thinking of death or is dying due to warfare.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
This is the first line of the sestet, marking a turn in the poem. The reader is directly addressed again for the first since the first line of the poem. Similar to the beginning, the speaker is instructing the reader’s thoughts. In essence, he is asking to be remembered in a positive way. This is insinuated with him saying his heart has "shed away" evil.
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
A pulse is a sign of life. However, it is death that is being discussed. For this reason, the "eternal mind" is mentioned. The mind is what lives on, not the physical brain. Once again, the speaker’s devotion to his homeland of England is demonstrated. He claims his thoughts were "given" to him by England and to England they shall return. He attributes everything he has and is to his homeland, including his very body and his thoughts. He was born from England and he will die to and in England, even if just spiritually.
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
The poem ends on a peaceful note of death. The speaker describes the calming effects of England. The "her" in these lines is used to refer to England, as was previously done in the poem. Through the use of words such as dreams, laughter, and gentleness, the reader is able to feel as tranquil as the speaker does. The final line may be taken as the end of the soldier’s life. Now that he has said what was on his mind and what he would like the reader to think of, he is able to rest peacefully "under an English heaven."
The speaker of the poem tells the reader how to remember him when he passes away. It is not difficult to gauge the importance of his homeland, England, from the lines written. England is referred to as "her" throughout the poem with all positive traits, giving off a sense of nurturing. Through his pronounced devotion to England, the reader learns it is important his English background be thought of after he passes away.
The major theme of the poem is patriotism. Though death is also a theme, the speaker’s patriotic pride is in the spotlight. The speaker emphasizes the intrinsic connection between him and his homeland in various instances. This is even evidenced through the title, "The Soldier."