A Detailed Look at a Criticized Poem
Grief, death, devastation: with the strong exception of Rupert Brooke, these were the themes reflected in most war poetry during WWI. Brooke laced his poetry with sentimentality and nationalism, which was very different from the themes of other works during the time. Many people love and admire his poems, but despite his poetry being criticized by the public, Rupert Brooke was a talented young poet throughout World War I. This poem was first published in Brooke’s book of sonnets, 1914 rightly named for the year they were authored. WWI was an influential time for poetry and a catalyst for an important movement in poetry; war poetry. The poetry of this time reflected the feelings of the general public at the commencement of WWI. Brooke’s “The Soldier,” though seen as a hymn to the great nation of England during WWI, is today seen as overly sentimental and as romanticizing the horrors of the war through strong figurative language and symbols (“The Soldier”).
The theme reflected most prominently in “The Soldier,” patriotism, is seen again in many of Brooke’s war sonnets, but not commonly in the poetry of emerging poets during the war. Brooke is notorious for his use of sentimentality and nationalism in his war poetry. The voice in “The Soldier” talks about his untimely death in a fiercely patriotic manner, undaunted by his likely demise. When referring to the foreign field in which he will be buried, he describes it with “…there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England. There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed” (Brooke). In these lines Brooke is saying that the dust, the earth, in which he is buried in will be richer because an English soldier lies in it; because a piece of England lies beneath the earth. Through this statement, Brooke is associating the soldier in the poem with England, making him not just English, but England. Patriotism shines through again in the next lines, “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…” (Brooke). “A body of England’s” supports Brooke’s embodiment of soldiers as not only English, but England. It is these examples of Brooke’s strong patriotism reflected in his poetry that created the criticism for its maudlin nature (“The Soldier”). In continuation, the second most prominent theme employed by Brooke is the notion of transformation, which is distinguished clearly throughout “The Soldier.” The second stanza was a prime example of the conversion displayed in the poem. The line in the second stanza, “And think, this heart, all evil shed away” (Brooke) implies a transformation from a soldier, ordinary and human, to a cleansed soul who will live forever through England. The second stanza is saying that with death for your country comes great honor and transformation into a pure soul, forever remembered for fighting to the end for their country. By making yourself a martyr, you have “cleansed your soul” and this is a great transformation. This idea is what inspired soldiers to be willing to die for their country, and to want to fight for England. Brooke is saying that there is a larger purpose that can be achieved through death, which is another example of Brooke romanticizing the war and death. To soldiers, the thought of being transformed into a great soul, forever linked to your nation because of your connection with England, is consistent throughout, which is why transformation is a prominent theme of the poem (“The Soldier”).
The figurative language in “The Soldier” defines the poem and displays the message, but also supports the fact that Brooke’s poem approaches the horrors of war in an indirect and romantic manner. When Brooke refers to “some corner of a foreign field” he is using the field as a symbol for the simple graveyards soldiers were buried in. Here, Brooke is addressing the war in a lighter...