Rupert Brooke’s poems are often seen in the context of the early part of the First World War: a time when literature was characterised by a patriotic fervour not yet eroded by the long years of trench warfare that followed. This poem, ‘The Soldier’, is not only one of Brooke’s most famous poems but one of the most famous poems written during the war and indeed in the 20th century. Here it is accompanied by another of Brooke’s well-known sonnets, ‘The Dead’.
These handwritten copies of the poems were written by Brooke for Edward Marsh, who was an early critic of Brooke’s poetry and the editor of the anthology, Georgian Poetry, published in 1912. Both poems are almost fair copies with the exception, in ‘The Soldier’, of corrections in the first two lines of the second stanza and, in ‘The Dead’, of corrections in the first and last lines of the first stanza, and the substitution of ‘all’ for ‘and’ in the final sentence of the first stanza.
Marsh donated these handwritten copies of ‘The Soldier’ and ‘The Dead’ to the Library at the British Museum in 1915. He explains in a letter accompanying his donation that the poems were written when Brooke was staying with him in January 1915 three months before his death of septicaemia at Skyros in Greece. Marsh writes that the poems are ‘one of my most precious possessions’ which he can hardly bear to part with but for the fact that he thinks that they should become part of the Library’s collections.
If I should die, think only this of me,
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed,
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
Think, Too, this heart, all evil shed away,
A [ ] pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given,
Her sights & sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
These hearts were woven of human joys & Tears cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth ,.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, & the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement and heard music; known
Slumber & waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the swift stir of wonder; sat alone;
Loved Touched flowers & furs & cheeks.
And this is ended.
There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And After,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.