Poems You Should Know: ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke

The transition from one artistic era to another seldom happens swiftly, but there is one notable exception: the abrupt and sweeping changes which took place in every field of European art during and immediately after World War One.

Written in 1914, ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) is a sonnet which reflects the very end of the Victorian era, with its smug nationalism and unswerving sense of loyalty and duty. Brooke himself would not live to see the transition to Modernism; he died in 1915 on his way to serve at Gallipoli.

If I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever 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, blessed by the suns of home.
.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

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Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth

willow-treeThis short orchestral work was composed by George Butterworth (1885-1916) in 1913, and has become the best-known and most widely-performed of his small output. It’s a charming little work in the English Romantic tradition which is based on a number of folk songs, most notably a less-than-charming tale of a country lass who falls in love with a sailor, becomes pregnant and runs away to sea with him only to suffer a difficult labour. Dying, she asks her lover to throw her and the baby overboard, where they both perish. Continue reading “Treasure Trove: The Banks of Green Willow, by George Butterworth”

Poet Profile: Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)

Sassoon letter
From ‘Finished With The War: A Soldier’s Declaration’, written in 1917, which Sassoon first sent to his commanding officer. It was subsequently forwarded to the press, then read aloud in Parliament by a sympathetic politician.

Often considered to be second only to Wilfred Owen among the great poets of the First World War, Sassoon’s work stands out for two things in particular: first, for the open way in which he attacks those he considers responsible for the war – military command, politicians, bishops and so on – and secondly because he was one of the relatively few poets who survived the War and continued to write thereafter, branching out into prose with his fictionalised three-part autobiography which began with Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, published in 1928. Continue reading “Poet Profile: Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967)”

Lest We Forget

ANZAC OdeLaurence Binyon composed his poem ‘For The Fallen’ just a few weeks after the outbreak of WWI. It is the fourth stanza, sometimes referred to as The Ode, which is most widely known, being recited at remembrance services in a number of Commonwealth nations, including the annual ANZAC Day dawn services here in New Zealand. Continue reading “Lest We Forget”

Poet Profile: Wilfred Owen

‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?
– O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?’

(Wilfred Owen, ‘Futility’)

In 1914, Europe and her dominions became embroiled in the most terrible and destructive war the world had ever seen. Continue reading “Poet Profile: Wilfred Owen”