What is a detailed analysis of Walter Scott's poem "Soldier, Rest! Thy Warfare O’er" in terms of language, structure, imagery, themes, and symbols?

In "Soldier, Rest! Thy Warfare O'er," Scott's theme is the contrast of the rigors of battle with the gentle repose of the court. In this song sung by Ellen to the king, Scott uses antithesis, repetition, anaphora, and imagery to emphasize his theme. Alliteration helps structure the poem, offering a sense of rhythm.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this poem, comprised of three verses from Sir Walter Scott's longer poem The Lady of the Lake , Ellen Douglas sings a song meant to lull James Fitz-James, the king of Scotland, to sleep. The theme is the contrast between the rigors of warfare, battles, and hunting and...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In this poem, comprised of three verses from Sir Walter Scott's longer poem The Lady of the Lake, Ellen Douglas sings a song meant to lull James Fitz-James, the king of Scotland, to sleep. The theme is the contrast between the rigors of warfare, battles, and hunting and the peaceful repose of life at court. To underscore this theme, Scott, through Ellen, uses antithesis, repetition, anaphora, and imagery. Along with end rhymes, the frequent use of alliteration gives the poem a sense of structure and rhythm.

Ellen is helping the tired king to relax. To do so, she relies on antithesis or contrast, describing the court as a haven apart from the "dangers" the king has been facing. Unlike the battlefield, it is an "enchanted hall" filled with "fairy" music. Ellen assures the king that none of the noises of battle, such as the sounds of drums and fifes or horses' neighing, will intrude on his peace in the court. The closest he is likely to get to those noises may be the song of lark.

Ellen uses repetition to urge the king to sleep, saying "soldier rest!" and then changing the wording in stanza three to "Huntsman, rest!", thus conflating battles and hunting. She also uses a specific form of repetition called anaphora in stanza three. In anaphora, the same word or words are repeated at the beginning of consecutive lines. Here, Ellen repeats "Sleep!" three times in a row.

Imagery—description using any of the five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell—is used frequently in the poem. For example, Scott uses sound imagery when he writes of

Armour’s clang, or war-steed champing...

Alliteration helps add structure and rhythm, also giving the verses a medieval cadence appropriate to the subject matter. An example is the repeated "s" sounds in the following line:

Shouting clans or squadrons stamping

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Language

Soldier, Rest! Thy Warfare O'er comes from the First Canto of Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake (which comprises six cantos). The Lady of the Lake tells the story of Ellen Douglas, who is desired by three men (Roderick Dhu, Malcolm Graeme, and James Fitz-James), the conflict between the lowland and highland Scottish clans, as well as the conflict between the king (James Fitz-James) and the Douglas clan. Roderick Dhu leads the Highland clans against James Fitz-James, the king of Scotland. Meanwhile, Ellen Douglas is the lady of the lake (Loch Katrine in the Scottish Highlands). 

The poem Soldier, Rest! Thy Warfare O'er is actually a song sung by Ellen to James Fitz-James while he recovers from his hunt. It uses language that evokes the historical conflict between highland Scottish clans and King James V ("war-steed champing"), where war-horses chew on their bits in their eagerness to participate in battle. The Scottish "trump" or Jew's Harp is mentioned here, as well as the "pibroch," Scottish bagpipes commonly used to summon the clans as well as to lament the death of noted individuals. The tone of the poem is soothing and encouraging. Warriors are told to retire from the din of battle and to calm their spirits with rest and slumber.

Structure

The rhyme scheme of the poem is basically ABAB (or alternate rhyme) with the last four lines of every stanza a variant or modification of the initial ABAB rhyme of the first four lines. Soldier, Rest! is a narrative poem. It is also basically written in trochaic tetrameter. Trochaic refers to the accented/unaccented poetic feet in each line, and tetrameter tells us that there are four feet per line.

Soldier,/ rest! thy/ warfare/ o’er,/
   Sleep the/ sleep that/ knows not/ breaking;/
Dream of/ battled/ fields no/ more,/
   Days of/ danger,/ nights of/ waking./

In our/ isle’s en/chanted/ hall,
   Hands un/seen thy/ couch are/ strewing,/
Fairy/ strains of/ music/ fall,/
   Every /sense in /slumber/ dewing./

Scott uses caesura (a rhythmical pause in a line of poetry) to emphasize the call to tranquil rest: the words "Soldier, rest!" "Huntsman, rest!" and "Sleep!" are repeated in Stanzas 1 and 3, punctuating pauses in several lines. He also uses enjambment to create a sense of the sustained tumult of battlefield conflict.

Trump nor pibroch summon here
   Mustering clan or squadron tramping.
Yet the lark’s shrill fife may come
   At the daybreak from the fallow,

Imagery

There is fantastic visual and sound imagery in the poem. Scott definitely provides clear images of warfare in Stanza Two. We can hear the din of war-horses galloping, the shouts of clansmen, and the clanking of armor.

No rude sound shall reach thine ear,
   Armour’s clang, or war-steed champing,
Trump nor pibroch summon here
   Mustering clan or squadron tramping.

Guards nor warders challenge here,
Here’s no war-steed’s neigh and champing,
Shouting clans or squadrons stamping.

In her song, Ellen bids her guest to rest from the tumult and chaos of war ("Sleep the sleep that knows not breaking; Dream of battled fields no more, Days of danger, nights of waking"). She reminds him that at dawn in the Highlands, there are no shrill bugles to "sound reveille" or to summon one to war.

Themes

The theme of the poem is rest or repose from battlefield conflict. In the poem, Ellen bids James Fitz-James to retire from battle and the hunt. Although James is on a stag-hunt in Canto One, Scott may also be implying that James Fitz-James (also James V, the king of Scotland) should cease his enmity against the Highland clans.

Symbols

In the poem, the bugle, pibroch, and trump are instruments that summon soldiers to battle. Certainly, these musical instruments are not used for leisure. They are a jarring contrast to the "fairy strains of music" that are produced by the natural surroundings of Lake Katrine. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team