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The Soldier is a sonnet in which Brooke glorifies England during the First World War. He speaks in the guise of an English soldier as he is leaving home to go to war. The poem represents the patriotic ideals that characterized pre-war England. It portrays death for one’s country as a noble end and England as the noblest country for which to die. The speaker begins by addressing the reader, and speaking to them in the imperative: “think only this of me.” This sense of immediacy establishes the speaker’s romantic attitude towards death in duty. He suggests that the reader should not mourn. Whichever “corner of a foreign field” becomes his grave; it will also become “forever England”. He will have left a monument of England in a forever England”. He will have left a monument in England in a foreign land, figuratively transforming a foreign soil to England. The suggestion that English “dust” must be “richer” represents a real attitude that the people of the Victorian age actually had. The speaker implies that England is mother to him. His love for England and his willingness to sacrifice is equivalent to a son’s love for his mother; but more than an ordinary son, he can give his life to her. The imagery in the poem is typically Georgina. The Georgian poets were known for their frequent mediations in the English countryside. England’s “flowers”, “her ways to roam”, and “English air” all represent the attitude and pride of the youth of the pre-industrial England; many readers would excuse the jingoistic them of this poem if they remember that this soldier’s bravery and sense of sacrifice is far better than the modern soldier and warfare in which there is nothing grand about killing people with automated machine guns! The soldier also has a sense of beauty of his country that is in fact a part of his identity. In the final line of the first stanza, nature takes on a religious significance for the speaker. He is “washed by the rivers”, suggesting the purification of baptism, and “blest by the sun of home.” In the second stanza, the sestet, the physical is left behind in favor of the spiritual. If the first stanza is about the soldier’s thought of this world and England, the second is about his thoughts of heaven and England (in fact, and English heaven). In the sestet, the soldier goes on to tell the listener what to think of him if he dies at war, but he presents a more imaginative picture of himself. He forgets the grave in the foreign country where he might die, and he begins to talk about how he will have transformed into an eternal spirit. This means that to die for England is the surest way to get a salvation: as implied in the last line, he even thinks that he will become a part of an English heaven. The heart will be transformed by death. All earthly “evil” will be shed away. Once the speaker has died, his soul will give back to England everything England has given to him- in other words, everything that the speaker has become. In the octave, the speaker describes his future grave in some far off land as a part of England; and in the sestet England takes on the role of a heavenly creator, a part of the “eternal mind” of God. In this way, dying for England gains the status of religious salvation, wherever he dies. Wherever he dies, his death for England will be the salvation of his soul. It is, therefore, the most desirable of all fates. This is a sonnet based on the two major types of the sonnet: Petrarchan or Italian and Shakespearean or English. Structurally, the poem follows the Petrarchan mode; but in its rhyme scheme, it is in the Shakespearean mode. In terms of the structure of ideas, the octave presents reflection; the sestet evaluates the reflection. The first eight lines (octave) is a reflection on the physical: the idea of the soldier’s “dust” buries in a “foreign field.” They urge the readers not to mourn this death, though they implicitly also create a sense of loss. The last six lines (sestet), however, promise redemption: “a pulse in the eternal mind…. under an English heaven”. The rhyme scheme is that of the Shakespearean sonnet: the octave and the sestet consist of three quatrains, rhyming abab cdcd efef and a final rhymed couplet gg. As in Shakespearean sonnets, the dominant meter is iambic.
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