The Soldier – Rupert Brooke

by Clara Ewald, oil on canvas, 1911
Rupert Brooke, by Clara Ewald, oil on canvas, 1911

The bitter ironies of war! In the spring of 1911, a young Rupert Brooke sat for the German artist, Clara Ewald, while on an extended visit to Munich. Brooke was accepted by the Ewalds as a family friend and was a frequent visitor to the artist’s home.

Brooke had been associated with the Bloomsbury group of writers, including Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey, but he fell out with them and suffered a nervous collapse. His trips to Germany were in part to enable him to recover from his emotional problems.

In this beautiful, sensitive portrait – part of the permanent collection at the National Portrait Gallery – Ewald captured the handsome features of the young poet, who with his broad-brimmed hat and optimistic gaze, strongly resembled the great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats.

Having enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve at the outbreak of the First World War, Rupert Brooke saw action at Antwerp in 1914 which inspired the writing of five passionately patriotic sonnets, the last of them being “The Soldier”, reprinted below.

Brooke died in 1915 from the consequences of an infected mosquito bite while en route to the catastrophic Gallipoli landing in the Dardenelles.

He is buried in an olive grove on the Greek island of Skyros. 

The Soldier

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.

Rupert Brooke


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