Rupert Brooke's sonnet The Soldier was written in 1914 and is today one of the best-known British poems of WWI. (The photo of the handsome poet was most probably taken in 1915. Find out more about him in the Writers' Gallery.)
1 If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
5 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,
10 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.
Looking into the poem:
Line 1ff, "If I should die..."
The speaker is a young soldier, who knows that he might not return from the battlefield, but end up in an anonymous grave in a foreign country (for example France or Belgium). He is convinced that his death will be meaningful, because England's positive characteristics will be spread to another part of the world.
Line 3f, "There shall be / In that rich earth a richer dust concealed"
The bible reminds us that we are all mortal: "for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen, 3:19). The young man in the poem does not need this reminder.
Line 5, " A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware"
When you look at how the soldier describes himself, you will find that he does not really characterise himself as an individual person, but rather as an embodiment of England and its values. It is this deep patriotism that the poem is famous for.
Line 6-14, "Gave, once, her flowers to love"
In order to understand the soldier's motivation to give his life for England's sake, we must look at how he sees his home country. Use a dictionary to check unknown words and find answers in the poem to the following questions:
- How has England shaped the young man?
- How has England enriched his life before he became a soldier?
- What are the values that he wants to defend?
Adventures in English Literature. Orlando: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980, p. 801
Rupert Brooke, around 1915
Karmen Heup & Sandra Schmidt