Overflowing with patriotism and idealism, the sonnet, written soon after World War I, exemplifies the glory of self-sacrifice. Rupert Brooke details the optimistic perspective of a British soldier through the themes of courage, nationalism, and self-sacrifice. By doing so, the poet conveys the beauty of defending and dying for one’s country, concealing the doleful aspects of war.
A sonnet written in the first-person speaker, the Soldier reveals the passion and courage of those that fought in the war. The poem begins with an apprehensive tone, stating, “If I should die, think only this of me”. By recognizing the possibility of death through the equivocation in the term ‘if’ in the first-person perspective, the speaker becomes much more personal. As a result, the audience is instilled with pathos due to the menacing situation (war) in which the soldier is in. However, the clear assertion ‘think’ directed towards the reader establishes the poet’s sense of excited urgency to convey his fond sentiment for death. Furthermore, the pathos rapidly diminishes due to the lack of terms with fearful and distressing connotations. Rupert, instead, replaces the usual despondent tone of war-writing with sanguine language. For example, the references are to life in the phrases “a pulse in the eternal mind” and “dreams happy as her day; and laughter, learnt of friends”, encouraging the reader to not grieve. Terms such as ‘dreams happy’, ‘laughter’, and ‘friends’ emphasize happiness through their jovial connotations, and create a much more idealistic attitude towards war. This is quite ironic, especially due to the tenor of the poem. Additionally, the colon at the end of the phrase suggests that a list of expectations, in compensation for his likely death, will follow. This style is similar to a letter, and thus interlinks with the idea of departure, both for war and the afterlife.
Moreover, the theme of nationalism is explored through the use of figurative language. As represented in the phrase, “that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England”, the poet implies that nationhood is an embodiment of identity. The term ‘some’ in the phrase “some corner” suggests ‘anywhere by even a minuscule amount’, and ‘corner’ expresses the ‘ends/borders of’. Consequently, Rupert implies his aspirations for the presence of England anywhere, as long as it is in existence. This message is further intensified through the use of enjambment from line two to three to symbolize the soldier’s stretched distance away from home. The continuation of the sentence “That there’s some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England” in separate lines also isolates “That is for ever England” to provide emphasis. As a result, the significance and potency of the poet’s nation is further embedded within the reader. Not only so, but the phrase “foreign field” employs alliteration with the consonant ‘f’, that provides a flow for an elongated acoustic effect. Consequently, Rupert Brooke stresses the sense of unfamiliarity and distance, implying the limitless possibilities of the occupation of England. Thus, Rupert figuratively transforms this ‘foreign field’ into a part of England, and implies that his demise would be a victory for England.
Furthermore, regardless of the place, “a richer dust will be concealed” due to his nationality: reinforcing the idea of patriotism. The metaphor of ‘dust’ compares the poet’s own body to land, and alludes to both the idea of ashes and the ‘dust’ of battlefields. By directly making this comparison, the poet has already envisioned himself as deceased. However, his continuous focus centered on the value of his “Englishness” as being the reason of the “rich earth” indicates his allegiance. Additionally, the term ‘rich’ implies eminence, as his corpse would be a mark of his nobility. As a result, the poet places the significance of his nationhood superior to his own survival. In addition, the space in between ‘for’ and ‘ever’ elongates the time frame of the term “forever” to accentuate the extensive time. The poet does so to presage the eternal presence of England. This effect is further amplified through a caesura in “That is for ever England”, which individualizes and empowers the statement. By doing so, Rupert Brooke intensifies the cruciality of nationalism and ‘England’.
Additional to the nationalism motif, Rupert Brooke expands on England’s prestige. Reiterating the ‘dust’ metaphor in the succeeding line, “a dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware”, the poet personifies England into a motherly, nurturing figure. Through maternal terms, such as “bore, shaped, made aware”, the growth from birth to adulthood in England is implied. As a result, the soldier’s duty of self-sacrifice is presented as a son’s deed for his mother (England). Thus, the poet indicates his loyalty and devotion to England as his motive for participating in the war. In addition, the maternal language adds an interpersonal connection between the nation and Rupert Brooke. As a result, the stanza becomes much more sensitive and sentimental.
Additionally, the second stanza is embellished with tranquil imagery to romanticize England’s scenery. These descriptions of the British landscape transfigure nationhood from something humane, “body”, to natural, “air”. Set in the countryside of England, the readers depict the “English sights and sounds” filled with “laughter”, “friends”, “suns”, and “rivers”. By presenting England in such a flawless way, the religious allusion to the Garden of Eden is implied. The poet’s presentation of the details of his home as impeccable provides a contextual understanding of his dedication and passion. This is further justified through the metaphor ‘English heaven’ and ‘all evil shed away’, which heighten the glory and purity of Rupert Brooke’s nation. In addition, the metaphor implies his hopes of heaven being just as perfect as England.
Overall, Rupert Brooke presents the honor and prestige of both England and British. Overpowering with a strong sense of patriotism, the poet justifies the nobility of self-sacrifice. As a result, the menacing aspect of a soldier’s fate in war is debilitated.