By Matthew Wohlberg
SFC US Army Ret.: Recruiter, New Mexico Veterans Upward Bound
One often reads a poem or other writing without knowing about the writer. But it is the life, and tragically the death, of the author that is as or more important than his or her work(s). Such is the case of Rupert Brooke, a poet of historical note who died in the service of his country during World War I.
Rupert came from a family of well-educated people, and his father was a teacher in his own right. Having been born in 1887 in Warwickshire, England, Rupert grew up in an era when education was just beginning to become a part of everyday life for the citizenry of England.
At the outbreak of WWI, Rupert immediately enlisted. He quickly captured the interest of the public when he published two poems, The Dead, and The Soldier. Such was his writing that he even gained the rapt attention of Sir Winston Churchill. Brooke’s popularity brought him to a commission in the Royal Navy as a sub-lieutenant. Just after his 27th birthday, he took part in the Royal Navy’s Antwerp expedition. Shortly thereafter he sailed once again with the British Mediterranean Force toward the projected and now memorialized landing at Gallipoli. But tragically he succumbed to a severe intestinal infection and was quickly buried en route on the Greek Island of Skyros in a barely marked grave. Thus, a young man of great literary promise died with his poetry to become a living testimony to his departed heart and soul. Such is the Poem entitled The Soldier.
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 and 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.
As you read this Poem, remember that any country could be substituted for the name of England. And remember also that Rupert’s brother likewise died in action during WWI.
Many people can recall only the first line of The Soldier from some fleeting moment in their educational background. But many a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or Coastguardsman will have that thought as they go into combat for the first time, “If I should die, think only this of me.”