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Analyze Rupert Brooke’s "The Soldier" as an implicitly anti-war poem.

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Rupert Brooke's poem "The Soldier" is often interpreted as a patriotic and idealistic meditation on the sacrifice of a soldier who dies for his country. However, a deeper analysis can reveal an implicitly anti-war message, subtly woven into the text. Here, we'll explore this perspective by examining the poem's language, imagery, and underlying themes.

Title and Form

The title, "The Soldier," is straightforward, suggesting a focus on the individual experience of a soldier. The sonnet form, traditionally associated with love poems, here is used to discuss the relationship between the soldier and his country, which can be seen as a commentary on the romanticized view of war.

The Poem's Language

The language of the poem initially seems to glorify the sacrifice of the soldier. Phrases like "some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England" suggest a noble view of war, where the soldier's death metaphorically transforms foreign soil into a piece of the homeland. However, this can also be read as a critique of war's futility—territorial gains are portrayed not as strategic or political, but as purely symbolic, reducing the real human cost to mere symbolism.

Imagery and Symbolism

Brooke uses soft, idealized imagery to describe the soldier's death. The mention of "flowers to love" and "ways to roam" evokes a peaceful, pastoral image rather than the brutal reality of war. This contrast can be seen as a subtle critique of how war is often sanitized in public consciousness, focusing on abstract ideals rather than the violent truth.

Themes of Sacrifice and Loss

The theme of sacrifice runs throughout the poem, with the soldier giving his life and becoming part of the land for England. This ultimate sacrifice is traditionally seen as honorable and noble. However, Brooke's portrayal can also highlight the tragic loss of life, emphasizing what is lost personally and to humanity more broadly. The line "A body of England's, breathing English air," suggests a reduction of the human to merely physical elements, a critique of how individuals are often depersonalized in the service of nationalistic rhetoric.

The Poetic Turn

In the sestet (the last six lines of the sonnet), the poem shifts from discussing the physical to the spiritual, suggesting that the soldier's sacrifice will lead to eternal peace and England purified. This can be read as consolatory, but also as ironically highlighting the disparity between the idealized afterlife and the soldier's earthly suffering and the actual horrors of war.

Conclusion

While "The Soldier" is often celebrated for its patriotic sentiment, reading it as an implicitly anti-war poem opens up a layer of critical depth. This interpretation focuses on the poem's subtle critique of nationalism, the romanticization of war, and the personal cost of conflict. Brooke's use of peaceful imagery to describe death, the transformation of war into a symbolic act, and the idealization of sacrifice all serve to question rather than affirm the righteousness of war.

In this light, "The Soldier" can be seen as a poignant reflection on the loss and futility of war, wrapped in the guise of a patriotic poem, challenging readers to look beyond the surface to the deeper, perhaps unintended implications of its imagery and themes.

Expert Answers

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The response generated is largely correct. The poem can be read to convey the soldier’s patriotism and love of England and also as an anti-war condemnation of the futility of war. However, it is not clear to what extent the poet intended to write an anti-war piece. He was going off to fight in WWI and dreading the prospect of dying. Thus, are we reading into it anti-war nuances that Brooke did not intend? It is difficult to know. Nevertheless, intended or not, there are ways to interpret the poem in an anti-war light.

The speaker is the soldier, who asks the reader to remember him in the event of his death and thus make his life count. The futility of his possible death does not eradicate his love of England: “In that rich earth a richer dust,” where his English body will enrich the foreign soil. His heart,

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given

This underscores his thorough ‘Englishness’ and also could critique the propaganda through which the government and warmongers promote the cause. Had he more time to contemplate the cause, would his thoughts be identical to the ones “by England given?” Perhaps not, which supports the view of the piece as anti-war.

Agreed that the soldier giving his life and becoming part of the land for England is ultimate sacrifice, which is seen as honorable and noble, but also highlights the tragic loss of life. It is noteworthy that the last line emphasizes peace, further supporting the anti-war read:

In hearts at peace, under an English heaven. 

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