Friday, 4 June 2010

The Volunteer - Herbert Asquith

'The Volunteer' celebrates a city clerk, whose dreams of military glory have been fulfilled and his death in battle by the end of the poem is rewarded with a place alongside the heroes of the Battle of Agincourt. As it is written in the early stages of the war it takes the view that the soldier has fulfilled his destiny in death. The first stanza uses Chivalric imagery to depict Asquith's romanticised view of war; 'No lance broken in like's tournament' is a comparison to knights and heroism that the volunteer feels can be achieved at war. Before the war he though his days would 'drift away', here the verb 'drift' implies a slow meaningless passing, lacking purpose and drive.

The archaic language; 'legions', 'the oriflamme' and 'horsemen' all evoke ancient values of chivalry and romance. This mythical imagery distances death in battle from the realities of modern warfare, thus placing it in a glorified, mythical past.

Asquith uses stark contrasts comparing 'grey' cities to the 'phantom skies' of war. From this, the volunteer's existence in the city seems inferior to that of the 'thundering' life on the battlefront. The second octet shows the volunteer fulfillnig his dreams having gone from 'twilight' - the dull life of the city, to 'the halls of dawn', symbolising a new day and the favourite time of day to attack on the battlefront.

Asquith's attitude to soldiers killed in battle is perhaps epitomised by the line 'His lance is broken; but he lies content' . The euphemism for death as a broken lance highlights Asquith's innocence and naivety. The break in the caesura is indicative of the soldier's death which is happy and peaceful as Asquith uses the gentle verb 'lie' followed by the descriptive word 'content'.

The soldier by the end of the poem is said to 'join the men of Agincourt'; this is highly symbolic as Agincourt was an English victory.

This pro-war poems rhyme scheme with it's end-stopped lines linked in a regular pattern, create a neat sense of finality to the final word 'Agincourt' transforming the humble clerk to a heroic 'volunteer'.

Please leave any comments or questions you may have. I will be happy to answer any.


  1. What would you say about the structure and maybe the use of punctuation?

  2. What are the Similes and Metaphors in this poem?