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Robert Frost's "A Soldier"

Robert Frost remains America's most noted and beloved poet. His classic works are widely anthologized and studied in the nation's schools.

Introduction and Text of "A Soldier"

Robert Frost’s poem, "A Soldier," fashions a variation of the Elizabethan sonnet with the rime scheme of ABBA CDDC EFFE GG; it may be separated either into three stanzas and a rimed couplet, as is the Elizabethan sonnet, or it may be divided into the Petrarchan octave and sestet, also known as the Italian sonnet.

The octave begins by making a claim about its subject; then the sestet continues with an explanatory discourse. Frost’s sonnet works well with the functionality of either form: if one looks at the sonnet as an Elizabethan sonnet or an Petrarchan sonnet, it works well functioning amazingly well.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was erroneously introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

A Soldier

He is that fallen lance that lies as hurled,
That lies unlifted now, come dew, come rust,
But still lies pointed as it plowed the dust.
If we who sight along it round the world,
See nothing worthy to have been its mark,
It is because like men we look too near,
Forgetting that as fitted to the sphere,
Our missiles always make too short an arc.
They fall, they rip the grass, they intersect
The curve of earth, and striking, break their own;
They make us cringe for metal-point on stone.
But this we know, the obstacle that checked
And tripped the body, shot the spirit on
Further than target ever showed or shone.

Reading of Frost's "A Soldier"

Commentary

The Robert Frost poem, "A Soldier," expresses an insightful view regarding the meaning of a soldier's duty; it is a fascinating blending of the English and Italian sonnet.

Octave or First and Second Quatrains

He is that fallen lance that lies as hurled,
That lies unlifted now, come dew, come rust,
But still lies pointed as it plowed the dust.
If we who sight along it round the world,
See nothing worthy to have been its mark,
It is because like men we look too near,
Forgetting that as fitted to the sphere,
Our missiles always make too short an arc.

By likening metaphorically the “fallen soldier” to a lance that has been “hurled,” the speaker begins his comparison and thought process. A lance lying on the ground fails to be retrieved; thus it gathers “dew” and “rust.”

Nevertheless, the lance continues to designate some target. The fallen soldier continues to point to the goal for which he died. The soldier is like a lance that still points to its designation. While reclining in "dirt," both the lance and the soldier communicate an important intention.

The reader’s attention is then drawn to the citizens for whom the soldier fought and fell: “If we who sight along it round the world, / See nothing worthy to have been its mark.”

The speaker knows that those for whom the soldier had died find it difficult to understand why the soldier had to fight and die at all. Why can’t we all just get along? Why should we be fighting in the first place?

But nations are a conglomerate of differing notions. Each nation has to protect the entire nation, not just those who agree with methods enforced to do that protecting. The violent peaceniks have to be protected from their own lethargic stance that would doom the whole nation. T

he speaker thus asserts: “It is because like men we look too near, / Forgetting that as fitted to the sphere, / Our missiles always make too short an arc.” The peaceniks look "too near." They march, they yell, they call for peace, but they do not realize that peace cannot be a screamed-for commodity; it must earned, sometimes with blood.

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Looking at the world with blinder on, the too many citizens become complacent and denigrate the very real powers of state that can do them good.

And it is in the one sphere that governmental authority has it definite duty, to serve and protect its citizens. Sometimes that protection means combating force or other nations who would aggressively attempt to attack another nation.

The soldier whose life has demonstrated his proper duty should be enough to enlighten all of a nation's citizens regarding the purpose of that soldier's action, but there are always those who remain blinkered and thus blind to the realties of earth life.

Sestet or Third Quatrain and Couplet

They fall, they rip the grass, they intersect
The curve of earth, and striking, break their own;
They make us cringe for metal-point on stone.
But this we know, the obstacle that checked
And tripped the body, shot the spirit on
Further than target ever showed or shone.

The average citizen’s imagination is short-sighted. Such individuals cannot imagine or visualize the actual mission of any soldier. But like the lance, the soldiers, "fall, they rip the grass, they intersect / The curve of earth, and striking, break their own.”

The soldier's physical fall resembles the fall of a "lance." The drama plays out while the average citizen of insufficient imagination remain smug in their derogatory complaints about the mission of soldiers. These low-information citizens remains incapable of grasping the sense of duty, the expression of energy, the love of country and life that these soldiers have felt deep in their hearts and minds.

The soldiers have never been the pawns of politicians that too many fellow citizens have thought of them. Only the protected ignorant, including indifferent, self-serving politicians, have continued to denigrate them, instead of honoring them as these fallen soldiers deserve.

The couplet of Frost’s poem offers the important message: the soul of that fallen soldier does not end its trajectory by continuing to lie in the dirt; it continues on to its greater home in the spiritual realm with God and the angels. Frost's intuitive awareness that the soul of each fallen soldier continues its trajectory adds depth to his poem.

That the poet, Robert Frost, possessed such spiritual insight is, no doubt, responsible for his ability to continue to gain readers in this tainted, postmodernist besmirched literary climate.

 Second Lieutenant Edward Thomas

Second Lieutenant Edward Thomas

Frost and Thomas

Frost and Thomas

Questions & Answers

Question: What type of poem style is Frost's "A Soldier"?

Answer: Robert Frost’s poem, "A Soldier," fashions a variation of the Elizabethan sonnet with the rime scheme of ABBA CDDC EFFE GG; it may be separated either into three stanzas and a rimed couplet, as is the Elizabethan sonnet, or it may be divided into the Petrarchan octave and sestet, also known as the Italian sonnet.

Question: When was "A Soldier" written?

Answer: Frost's "A Soldier" appears in his collection titled "West-Running Brook" published in 1928. Therefore, he wrote the poem prior to 1928.

© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes

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