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In this essay, I will analyze two poems. I will aim to discuss the main themes that are evident throughout the poems, as well as how the writers show these themes through the structures of the poems. The two poems which I will analyze are The Soldier and In Flanders Fields.

The first poem which I will look at is The Soldier, written by Rupert Brooke in 1914. The poem is still used today in remembrance ceremonies when remembering the lives of the soldiers who risked everything during the First World War and other wars. Leading onto the main theme, which is seen throughout the poem, is patriotism. This is used throughout the poem to show how proud the soldiers are to fight for their country, England. An example of this comes from the start of the poem in the first stanza, ‘If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field, that is forever England’ (Brooke, 1914). This poem has been written in the first person, this helps to reiterate the idea that it is an honor to fight and die for your country. This use of the first person, ‘If I should die’ (Brooke, 1914) helps to show that those who stepped up to fight had an acceptance that they may die, but because this is seen as a sacrifice for England, it is one that they are willing to make.

A word that is featured throughout the poem is ‘England’ or ‘English’. This is another way to show Brooke’s patriotism for his country. His view is that it is a glorious and honorable sacrifice to die for your country, specifically England. This poem almost acts as a love poem for England, which Brooke praises for its beauty and bounty. By mentioning England many times throughout, it helps to show that even in death he represents her. The final line in the last stanza says, ‘In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.’ (Brooke, 1914). This again brings across the idea that death brings peace and comfort and that he can die under the knowledge of a life well spent and a life sacrificed appropriately to help protect a nation that is so important and righteous, that even heaven reflects its values. Therefore, this could suggest that ‘The Soldier’, wherein the title suggested an anonymous soldier and perhaps reflects to show how many soldiers were going to lose their lives in battle, but in fact, it could be where Brooke is the Soldier, and he is using it to show his feelings about war and his country.

Another way in which this poem exhibits a true love for England is when he says that if he dies in the battle, his body will be buried in a foreign land. ‘That there’s some corner of a foreign field, that is forever England. There shall be in that rich earth a richer dust concealed.’ (Brooke, 1914). This suggests that the piece of land on which his body lays will be considered as a part of England because the body of an English soldier lies within it. The use of the words to describe the foreign fields as rich also helps to show how the dust will be even richer now with the body of an English soldier within it. Another part of the poem suggests what England has done for him, ‘A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware.’ (Brooke, 1914). Lastly, this helps to show how he personifies England, she has acted as a mother to him. She has shaped him into who is, by raising and nurturing him.

This poem is a sonnet of two stanzas. The first stanza is an octet of eight lines, whereas the second stanza is a sestet of six lines. The first stanza establishes what is going on and what the situation is. The second stanza focuses on assuming the death of the speaker. This poem is similar to a Petrarchan sonnet. However, the rhyming pattern of the poem does not follow the typical pattern of a Petrarchan sonnet, the usual pattern is ABBAABBA CDECDE. However, the long iambic pentameter lines and disciplined rhymes help to enhance the poem’s formal tone. (notes, 2018).

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The next poem which I will analyze is ‘In Flanders Fields’ by John McCrae, published in 1915. This poem was also written during the First World War by Canadian Lieutenant, Colonel John McCrae. He wrote it after the funeral of a fellow soldier and friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. The poem acts as a remembrance, a call for all those who are living to not forget the dead who are buried in a foreign land. It demands that people living to remember why the fallen died so that they did not die in vain. This poem is one of the most famous of all the poems about the First World War. (notes, 2021).

The main themes that are evident throughout this poem are honoring the dead, the devastation of war, and the cycle of life. The poem commemorates the dead soldiers by showing the tragedy of their loss and giving voice to their views and wishes. Secondly, McCrae depicts the immense human toll that war takes and evokes the pathos of such loss. This leads to the first stanza of the poem which depicts a graveyard on the battlefront. ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row’ (McCrae, 1915). This suggests how the battlefront is just like what a graveyard looks like, the feeling of death, tragedy, and loss that is experienced on the frontline by the soldiers. The imagery of larks flying overhead and poppies blooming among the graves describes what McCrae experienced on the day of Helmer’s death. ‘Between the crosses, row on row’ (McCrae, 1915), shows how the crosses mark the graves of the fallen soldiers and that it is between these crosses that the poppies blow. The poppies act as a sign of respect and remembrance for the fallen fighters. The poppies play a very important role in this poem, they are growing between the crosses to produce an effect of the stillness of death.

At the end of the first stanza there is the line, ‘Scarce heard amid the guns below’ (McCrae, 1915). This suggests that with the peaceful scene of the poppies, there is also the sound of guns and the voices of the dead that are not far away. This helps to bring across the emphasis on how vulnerable life really is and how quickly a life can be taken away. This is seen in the second stanza, ‘We are the Dead. Short days ago, we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields.’ (McCrae, 1915). This helps to show how as humans we should not take our lives for granted. In the third and final stanza, ‘The torch; be yours to hold high’ (McCrae, 1915). This again emphasizes the idea of being alive and the torch symbolizes duty. A duty that those who are still on earth enjoy life and enjoy the loveliness of the earth that those who came before them fought to instill.

This poem is a rondeau of fifteen lines with a rhyming scheme of AABBA-AABR-AABBAR. The R represents the eponymous refrain that is visible at the end of the second and third stanzas. The three stanzas of the poem are a quintet, quatrain and sestet. The first stanza addresses the situation of the poem with the second stanza focusing on how important life is and the third stanza, focusing on living for what those who died fought for. The poem is flooded with the use of enjambed hence the lines of the poem do not end with pauses for punctuation, instead, they carry over into the next lines. It is by using this form the meaning is smoothly shown in the poem and the readers come across a sense of continuity when reading the poem (Beaming Notes, 2018).

In conclusion, both poems include the main themes throughout and get across the points that they want to in different ways, whether it be through structure or through the words they use for the text.

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