Study Guide

The Soldier Themes

  • Death

    The very first thing the speaker of "The Soldier" talks about is his own death. Throughout the first stanza, he talks about himself as "dust," a word that makes us immediately think of funerals, death, and corpses. Good times! Death almost seems inevitable, and this despite the fact that speaker says "If" in the very first line! We're used to thinking of death as scary, but the speaker imagines a life after death that seems, at the very least, peaceful and familiar.

    Questions About Death

    1. Why is death the first thing the speaker discusses?
    2. Does the speaker seem afraid of death? How do you know? 
    3. Does dust make you think of death, the natural world, or perhaps both? Why? 
    4. By imagining heaven-as-England, do you think the speaker really accepts the possibility of his death? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    By frequently referring to the soldier as dust, the speaker suggests that the soldiers who went off to war were already, in some sense, dead. Bummer.

    Not so fast there, soldier. Imagining heaven as exactly the same as your favorite place on Earth is really not preparing yourself to die.

  • Warfare

    The poem is called "The Soldier," so naturally it's about… war. Unlike many other famous World War I-era poems, however, Brooke paints a more optimistic picture. The soldier's possible death is mentioned, yes, but so is a blissful life after death. Moreover, the poem celebrates the fact that the soldier's death will give England another "corner" of land. So, for the speaker, all this warfare business seems like a big win! Of course, he hasn't actually been to war just yet….

    Questions About Warfare

    1. Why is there so little actual warfare in this poem?
    2. Would this poem have been possible without war? Why do you think so?
    3. How can this poem be seen as taking part in the country's general war effort? What role(s) might it play? 
    4. Can someone write intelligently about war if they've never been in one?

    Chew on This

    Yeah, uh… no thanks. War is unimaginably horrific, and this is why the poem refuses to discuss it directly.

    War is so influential in this poem that the only imaginable peace is the peace of heaven—the peace we achieve after death. Bummer.

  • Patriotism

    Six times! That's how many times the word England or English occurs in this poem. (Just go ahead and count 'em. We'll wait right here.) So, you think "The Soldier" is patriotic? You could say so. The speaker emphasizes the organic relationship between the soldier and his country—the soldier is a part of England, and England is like his mother. In doing so, he underscores the importance of fighting for that country.

    Questions About Patriotism

    1. Do you think the soldier would be this patriotic without a war to fight? Why or why not?
    2. How does patriotism help the speaker deal with death? 
    3. Is it possible that this poem is actually a subtle critique of unchecked patriotism? If not, why not? If so, how?
    4. The speaker is both patriotic and seems accepting of war. Do you think one can be anti-war and patriotic at the same time? How so?

    Chew on This

    A country is like a mother. In fact, it plays a bigger role in our development as human beings than our own parents. Love it, or leave it!

    Self-interest alert! Patriotism is merely the speaker's way of convincing himself that his death will not be in vain, and that he'll be rewarded in heaven.

  • Man and the Natural World

    The speaker of "The Soldier" is very closely linked to the natural world. He returns to the earth when he dies (in the form of dust). And, as a child, he was "washed" and "blest" by the rivers and suns of his homeland. The natural world, it seems, plays a big role in our development as human beings, perhaps an even bigger role than our parents. Thanks, nature!

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. What is the role that nature plays in this poem? How can you tell?
    2. What is the deal with all the dust in this poem? How is it important? 
    3. Is the speaker being sarcastic when he says "some corner of a foreign field"? Or do you think he sees his death as a worthy sacrifice? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    We're not buying it. The speaker's use of the natural world in this poem is directly related to his patriotic feelings. It's the country he loves most, not nature itself.

    Puh-leeze. The poem implies that fighting over land is ridiculous. The speaker's pride in acquiring "some corner of a foreign field" rings quite hollow.