a) Read the poem below, The Soldier by Rupert Brooke. In this poem Brooke explores ideas about death. Write about the ways in which Brooke presents death in this poem.
Throughout ‘The Soldier’, Rupert Brooke presents death at war as somewhat inevitable, yet overwhelmingly honourable. From the first line, Brooke accepts that his death is a possibility, thinking about how his loved ones will remember him “if [he] should die”. Brooke continues to suggest that dying at war is almost like martyrdom as, by dying in battle, “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England” - by dying on the land, the soldier has conquered it. The poet even suggests that the dead soldiers are the most important people and are made of “richer dust” in order to appeal to young boys’ sense of pride and patriotism to encourage them to enrol, as this is a piece of propaganda. England is even personified as a mother who “bore, shaped, made aware” these boys in order to make them think they owe her a debt, which they can only repay by dying at war. Throughout the poem, Brooke uses positive imagery “flowers to love, ways to roam” in order to reinforce how idyllic the childhood England “gave” them was and how the only way they could ever deserve this would be by ascending to the equally idyllic heaven. Also, Brooke uses iambic pentameter to mimic the beating of a heart in order to show how soldiers’ deaths are part of something bigger than themselves - which is ironic as Brooke died on the way to the front, before he could see the true atrocities of war. The soldiers’ senses of pride are further appealed to when Brooke tells them that they can be “a pulse in the eternal mind”, suggesting that the only way they can be forever remembered is through a death at war, as then everyone will see them as a hero. Finally, Brooke ends the poem by saying that the dead soldiers will rest “under an English heaven”, suggesting not only that England has conquered even death and that God sides with the Allies in World War One, but also that soldiers will be rewarded for their sacrifice. Brooke is giving soldiers false hope by telling them that their deaths will results in them being remembered as heroes and that they will ascend to an idyllic place afterwards when, in actuality, so many soldiers died that individual names were lost.
b) Choose one other poem from the anthology in which the poet also writes about death. Compare the presentation of death in your chosen poem to the presentation of death in The Soldier.
In their poems, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen portray death very differently - it is presented as a noble sacrifice in ‘The Soldier’ and as a waste of young life in ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’. This is because Brooke’s poem was a piece of propaganda written before the atrocities of war were widely known whereas Owen, who was actually a soldier in World War One unlike Brooke, depicts the true horrors of the front line.
In ‘The Soldier’, Brooke presents dying at war as the best thing someone could ever do. For example, by dying Brooke suggests a soldier conquers the land “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England” which brings back ideas of imperialism that were rife at the time. Brooke even uses biblical references to compare a soldier’s death to that of Jesus on the cross “this heart, all evil shed away” in order to suggest that, by dying, the soldier is saving humanity from all their sins and asserting his rightful place in heaven. By contrast, Owen’s despairing and angry tone throughout ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est’ shows his discontent with propaganda poems such as ‘The Soldier’, and the messages they portray. Owen humanises the soldiers, portraying them as “children ardent for some desperate glory” in order to show the childlike innocence that is being destroyed, and the potential lives that are being wasted because the children have been told dying at war makes them ‘heroes’. Furthermore, Owen explicitly describes how a soldier died on the battlefield, using plosive consonants such as “guttering” to show the violence of a soldier’s struggle with gas - death is not a peaceful martyrdom but a horrific snatching of life before its time.
On the other hand, the poems are quite similar as they contain quite irregular structures based around iambic pentameter, which achieves different effects. In ‘The Soldier’, the iambic pentameter is used to perhaps suggest that just as soldiers are part of England’s “eternal mind”, they are part of her heart and have a responsibility to die at war, as the structure mimics that of a heartbeat. The poem is also written in the sonnet form which portrays Brooke’s patriotism and his love for his country. Throughout the poem, the rhyming scheme is a regular ABAB structure until line 9 when Brooke begins to talk about heaven and it switches to an ABCABC structure to show the “gentleness” and tranquility of heaven. Similarly, Owen uses iambic pentameter however in this case it is used to mimic troops marching in order to show the tedium of war and the pointlessness of death. After the first stanza, which has a traditional ABAB rhyming structure, the structure is very free in order to demonstrate the violence of the unnamed soldier’s death and how this disease as “obscene as cancer” could be inflicted on anyone.
Another difference between the two poems is their use of language to describe war, and death at war. For example, in ‘The Soldier’ positive imagery is used to make war seem like a noble and peaceful place to be “flowers to love”, and to illustrate the idyllic nature of heaven. Conversely, Owen’s use of similes and metaphors perhaps suggests that war is like hell - the two poems are almost oxymoronic. For example, the description of the soldiers “bent like hags” makes it seem as though war has stripped the soldiers of their childlike innocence. Owen’s message directly opposes Brooke’s message as the soldiers have become “like beggars” - who are traditionally the lowest class of people.
Overall, ‘The Soldier’ presents death at war as an honourable act which is immediately followed by the reward of heaven. On the other hand, Brooke’s poem was written in opposition to propaganda poems such as ‘The Soldier’ and to present death at war as a pointless loss of life.