First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Rupert Brooke: V. The Soldier

On April 4, 1915, Dean Inge of St. Paul's Cathedral read a sonnet from the pulpit as part of his Easter Sunday sermon. The sermon was published in The Times the next day, and the sonnet therein became, as George Parfitt describes, "an important document of national preparation for war." Originally entitled 'The Recruit', Rupert Brooke's sonnet 'The Soldier' was the last in a sonnet sequence entitled '1914'. The five numbered sonnets, preceded by an unnumbered sonnet were first published in the periodical New Numbers (number 4) in January of 1915: The Treasure, I. Peace, II. Safety, III. The Dead, IV. The Dead, V. The Soldier (below)

V. 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.

RB, p. 148

Literary Criticism of 'V. The Soldier'

Brooke observes the sonnet form (14 lines of iambic pentameter, divided into an octave and sestet), however the octave is rhymed after the Shakespearean/Elizabethan (ababcdcd) rhyme scheme, while the sestet follows the Petrarchan/Italian (efgefg). Brooke has also deviated somewhat from the traditional thematic divisions associated with the octave and sestet: question/predicament and resolution/solution, respectively. The octave and sestet both enjoin the reader to imagine the blissful state of the fallen soldier.

'The Soldier' is the culmination of Brooke's '1914' sonnet sequence. In 'The Soldier' Brooke invokes the ideas of spiritual cleansing (as found in 'Peace'), inviolable memories of the dead (as in 'Safety'), a hero's immortal legacy ('The Dead' III & IV), but now he combines all these specifically under the overarching framework of English heritage and personal loyalty to it. Although Dean Inge objected to the neo-paganism of Brooke's idea of resurrection,

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind[,]

'The Soldier' touched a nerve and inspired imitations. Some were close and complimentary as they sought a recognizable connection with Brooke's sonnet. For example 'To My Mother — 1916' by Rifleman Donald S. Cox:

If I should fall, grieve not that one so weak
And poor as I
Should die.
Nay! Though thy heart should break
Think only this: that when at dusk they speak
Of sons and brothers of another one,
Then thou canst say—"I too had a son;
He died for England's sake!"

Edward Thomas (who was acquainted with Brooke) was probably musing on 'The Soldier' when he made up his little ditty to a bugle call — 'No One Cares Less than I':

No one cares less than I,
Nobody knows but God,
Whether I am destined to lie
Under a foreign clod,

while Martin Stephen sees a "clear rebuttal" to 'The Soldier' in Charles Hamilton Sorley's sonnet 'When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead':

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you'll remember. For you need not so.

Associated, as it came to be, with the discredited idealistic attitudes of 1914, Rupert Brooke's sonnet 'The Soldier' suffered a similar fate. However, Stephen finds that "the personal element" in Brooke's sonnets distinquishes them from propaganda verse: "[w]hatever else they may be, Brooke's sonnets sum up admirably a mood that was felt by many people when war broke out."

LitCrit by:

English Literature Librarian
Harold B. Lee Library
Brigham Young University