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Robert Frost's "A Soldier" and Roscoe C. Jamison's "The Negro Soldiers"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Robert Frost was a giant of American poetry. “A Solider” by Robert Frost is an important poem that reminds readers of the sacrifice of soldiers.

Robert Frost was a giant of American poetry. “A Solider” by Robert Frost is an important poem that reminds readers of the sacrifice of soldiers.

Introduction and Text "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 sectioned into three quatrains and a rimed couplet, resembling the Elizabethan sonnet.

An alternative is to section the poem into the Petrarchan octave and sestet. The Petrarchan form is also known as an 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.

The poem works well, functioning either as an Elizabethan sonnet or an Petrarchan sonnet.

(Please note: Dr. Samuel Johnson introduced the form "rhyme" into English in the 18th century, mistakenly thinking that the term was a Greek derivative of "rhythmos." Thus, "rhyme" is an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form "rime," 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 on "A Soldier"

The Robert Frost poem, "A Soldier," expresses an insightful view regarding the meaning of a soldier's duty. Its profundity is enhanced through its well-crafted 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?

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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. The 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.

Peace must earned, sometimes with blood. Looking at the world with blinders on, too many citizens become complacent and denigrate the very real powers of state that can do them good.

And it is in this one sphere, involving military, law, and order enforcement that governmental authority has its definite duty, to serve and protect its citizens. Sometimes that protection means combating force or other nations that 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 life in the physical, earthly realm.

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 often 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 too many citizens of insufficient imagination remain smug in their derogatory complaints about the mission of soldiers.

These low-information citizens remain 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 true, dutiful soldiers do not become pawns of politicians. 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

Roscoe C. Jamison

Roscoe C. Jamison

Note on Use of the Term "Negro"

Roscoe C. Jamison, who lived from 1888–1918, uses the term "Negro," not "African American," because Jamison was writing several decades before 1988, when Rev. Jesse Jackson convinced Americans to adopt the phrase "African American.”

Roscoe C. Jamison's "The Negro Soldiers"

In his poem, "The Negro Soldiers," Roscoe C. Jamison celebrates the bravery of the African American soldiers who fought and died in World War I.

Introduction and Text of "The Negro Soldiers"

In his poem "The Negro Soldiers," Roscoe C. Jamison celebrates the bravery of the African American soldiers who fought and died in World War I.

Jamison's "The Negro Soldiers" appeared in 1917 in the June issue of The Crisis, a civil rights magazine founded in 1910 by W. E. B. DuBois.

The poem proclaims the importance of the bravery of the African American military men who fought in World War I. It highlights the irony of these brave soldiers who fought for a freedom that they were not yet completely able to enjoy.

The poem consists of two stanzas. The first stanza has eight lines with the rime scheme, ABABCBCB. The second stanza has nine lines with the rime scheme, ABCBCDEDE.

(Please note: Dr. Samuel Johnson introduced the form "rhyme" into English in the 18th century, mistakenly thinking that the term was a Greek derivative of "rhythmos." Thus, "rhyme" is an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form "rime," please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Negro Soldiers

These truly are the Brave,
These men who cast aside
Old memories, to walk the blood-stained pave
Of Sacrifice, joining the solemn tide
That moves away, to suffer and to die
For Freedom—when their own is yet denied!
O Pride! O Prejudice! When they pass by,
Hail them, the Brave, for you now crucified!

These truly are the Free,
These souls that grandly rise
Above base dreams of vengeance for their wrongs,
Who march to war with visions in their eyes
Of Peace through Brotherhood, lifting glad songs,
Aforetime, while they front the firing line.
Stand and behold! They take the field to-day,
Shedding their blood like Him now held divine,
That those who mock might find a better way!

Reading of "The Negro Soldiers"

Commentary on "The Negro Soldiers"

In his poem, "The Negro Soldiers," Roscoe C. Jamison celebrates the bravery of the African American soldiers who fought and died in World War I.

First Stanza: Brave Soldiers

These truly are the Brave,
These men who cast aside
Old memories, to walk the blood-stained pave
Of Sacrifice, joining the solemn tide
That moves away, to suffer and to die
For Freedom—when their own is yet denied!
O Pride! O Prejudice! When they pass by,
Hail them, the Brave, for you now crucified!

The speaker asserts that the "Negro" soldiers are "truly" the brave ones. They rise above the unfairness they have faced from fellow citizens and go to war to fight for their country.

They "suffer and [ ] die / For Freedom," even though they are denied that same freedom that the Caucasian soldiers enjoy.

The speaker calls for the audience to "hail them," that is, call them "the Brave," as they are watching the soldiers go marching off to war.

Even though some of the citizenry is still suffering as if "crucified," they should admire and celebrate these soldiers for the sacrifices these brave men are making.

Second Stanza: Free Soldiers

These truly are the Free,
These souls that grandly rise
Above base dreams of vengeance for their wrongs,
Who march to war with visions in their eyes
Of Peace through Brotherhood, lifting glad songs,
Aforetime, while they front the firing line.
Stand and behold! They take the field to-day,
Shedding their blood like Him now held divine,
That those who mock might find a better way!

In the second stanza, the speaker asserts that, "These truly are the Free." These soldiers who "rise / Above" "vengeance" are superior souls. They march off to war with "visions in their eyes"; they envision "Peace through Brotherhood."

They sing "glad songs" as they face the enemy. They meet their duties with courage and strength, knowing full well that they must shed their blood for their ideals. The speaker likens them to Christ who shed his blood for mankind.

As the divinity of Christ portended a "better way" of life for those who understood His courage and followed in His brave footsteps, those who understand and follow the courageous path of these brave black soldiers will also find "a better way."

Shakespearean Influence

This poem was written in the early part of the 20th century, and its elevated diction reveals that the poet has been influenced by the English poets such as Shakespeare and Wordsworth, as Phillis Wheatley, American’s first black poet, had been.

The language is serious and dignified, appropriate for its subject. Its rime scheme and rhythm adhere to the sober, intellectual portrayal of the theme of bravery.

The bravery and dedication of the African American soldiers rise above the indignity that those same soldiers have suffered as citizens of a nation not yet enlightened enough to recognize the equality of human beings, and the language of the poem portrays the subtle spiritual elevation of their sacrifice.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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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