Poet's Pick April 17
Rupert Brooke: "The Soldier"
Selected by Gary Fincke
National Poetry Month 2014

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Don Selby & Diane Boller

Gary Fincke 's Poetry Month Pick, April 17, 2014

"The Soldier"
by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

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.
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.


* Gary Fincke Comments:
In eighth grade English, as the 1960s began, we listened to our teacher recite “The Soldier” to show us how memorization would stay with us, how, when each of us stood in front of the room to recite our chosen poems the following week, we would be proud.  “And the sentiment,” he said, “I’ve never forgotten it--love of country, sacrifice, the things that make our lives a blessing to ourselves and others.”

He told us that when the poem was published it was read from the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral on Easter Sunday, 1915, that people everywhere were thrilled and moved, that he had learned the poem as a boy during World War II and would never forget a word.

In my senior year of college, as the 1960s ended, a professor spent an hour talking about the sentimental and naïve in poetry, citing, along the way, “The Soldier.”  “Propaganda,” he said, “for the foolish.”  He expected us to agree.  We were the ones facing Vietnam, and he was right to assume that no one I knew had any interest in turning a corner of a Southeast Asia field into something forever USA.

Rereading “The Soldier” now, I appreciate the technical skill, but the poem comes back to me as an example of how the expressed thought of poetry was taught to me at both ends of the 1960s, with nothing, in either case, said about the quality of the poem, the line, the syntax, the meter, the sound—anything whatsoever about poetry.  Junior high school teacher and college professor both had political agendas and receptive audiences. In eighth grade I was planning on applying to West Point; as a college senior, I was applying to be a teacher anywhere because the job offered a deferment.

And so I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to say I don’t think I’m alone when I believe one of the principle reasons why poetry is resisted rather than embraced by students and the adults they become is the widespread teaching of the “meaning” of  poems rather than the teaching of poetry.  During National Poetry Month, it needs to be said again.

About Gary Fincke:
Gary Fincke's recent books include: The Proper Words for Sin (stories, 2013), The History of Permanence (poems, 2011), winner of the Stephen F. Austin Poetry Prize, The Canals of Mars (memoir, 2010), and The Fire Landscape (poems, 2008). He is the recipient of multiple awards for his poetry, including the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine and the Rose Lefcowitz Prize from Poet Lore. His collection Writing Letters for the Blind (2003) won the 2003 Ohio State University Press/The Journal poetry prize. 

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