Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier" is a patriotic, idealistic war poem written from the perspective of the eponymous soldier. In the poem, the soldier contemplates his own death and the value of a life given to one's country. The poem is particularly poignant because it was published in 1915 during World War One, just weeks before Brooke died. Brooke at the time was serving in the British army, although he had yet to see combat.
In the opening line of the poem, beginning "If I should die," the speaker accepts that there is a real possibility that he may die during the war. This line immediately establishes a tone of stoic bravery. The speaker then says that if he should die fighting for his country, he, and others who might mourn for him, should take comfort in the idea that there will be "some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England." He refers to his imagined dead body as "a richer dust" beneath the dust of the earth. The implication is that a patriotic death is something one should be proud of, rather than something one should mourn for.
In the second half of the first stanza, the speaker nostalgically reflects on the beauty of his country. He recalls "breathing English air" and washing in "the rivers, blest by suns of home." He also says that he was "shaped" in England, implying that he owes everything to and belongs to England, and thus he has a responsibility to fight and if necessary die for England. These lines are especially poignant if we remember that Brooke died not long after writing this poem, and so never saw England again.
In the second stanza, the speaker imagines what might happen to him after his death. He imagines that he will become a "pulse in the eternal mind," and that the "sights and sounds; dreams . . . laughter . . . and gentleness" of England will leave his consciousness and return to the country from which they came. In this way he imagines that his spirit will rest "at peace, under an English heaven."
The second stanza is rich with language connoting happiness and innocence. We have "dreams happy," "laughter," "hearts at peace" and "an English heaven," for example. The speaker is really trying to emphasize the idea that a patriotic death should not be considered as a death to be mourned but rather as an act of patriotism to be celebrated. The first line of the stanza describes a "heart (with) all evil shed away." This image is almost baptismal and suggests that a patriotic death will wash away all evil from one's heart so that one can be born again, in this instance, as a spirit which returns home to England.
Throughout the poem, the speaker presents a very idealized picture of England, and Brooke creates a soft, lilting rhythm to echo and compound this idyllic image. He writes, for example, in iambic pentameter, meaning that every line has ten syllables and every second syllable is stressed. For example: "If I should die, think only this of me." This repeated pattern throughout the poem creates a gentle rhythm. Also, because the final syllable of each line is stressed, the poem is also written with a rising meter, which lends itself to a rising, upbeat intonation. Therefore, although the subject matter of the poem is ostensibly sad, it is nonetheless written as a positive, stoically joyful poem about the poet's love for his country. This is reflected also in the fact that Brooke chose to write the poem as a sonnet.