The first two lines of "For the Fallen" establish the emotional stakes of the poem. England, personified as a "proud" and grateful "mother" figure, mourns dead British soldiers—treated in this metaphor as the country's children. By establishing a familial relationship between the dead and England, the poem emphasizes the grief that England feels at their deaths. Additionally, the British citizens have died "across the sea" and not on English land. Therefore, England's inability to recover the bodies of "her children" compounds her grief.
Furthermore, the dead are not simply children; rather, as described in line 3, they are “Flesh of her flesh.” In losing the soldiers, or "her flesh," England herself suffers a physical wound. Additionally, the phrase “flesh of her flesh” is a Biblical allusion to God’s creation of Eve out of Adam’s rib. The allusion stresses that dead are as important to England as Eve was to Adam. In the same vein, the second half of line 3 describes the dead as “spirit of [England’s] spirit.” The dead are not just a part of England’s body, then, but also a part of her soul. Consequently, the loss of the British citizens is an emotional, physical, and also existential wound. The caesura in the middle of line 3, in the form of a comma, slows down the reading of the line, stressing the importance and solemnity of these two declarations.
Also note how, in the first four lines, the dead are described in relation to England as "her children," "her dead," "her flesh," and "her spirit." The repetition of the possessive "her" highlights the intimate relationship between England and the dead, never letting the reader forget that these fallen soldiers are part of the nation they fought for.
Line 4 then provides more details into the identities of those who have died. The ones who England mourns for so deeply are not just any British citizens. Rather, they are those who have "Fallen in the cause of the free." In other words, the dead are British soldiers who have died fighting for their country in another land. The poem thus takes a patriotic view of war and argues for the nobility and necessity of sacrifice in the name of England's ideals.
"For the Fallen" is, ultimately, an elegy for dead British soldiers. As is fitting for an elegy, there is a ceremonial regularity to the form. The poem is composed of seven quatrains, or four-line stanzas. Within each quatrain, the first three lines are of similar syllabic length, while the fourth line is shorter. Additionally, the majority of the lines are end-stopped, slowing down the reading of the lines and providing a stately rhythm to the poem.
Binyon is more unconventional, however, in terms of meter. Although there are moments of conventional meter, Binyon often plays against these meters from line to line and in unconventional ways. Take, for example, line 2:
England | mourns for | her dead | across | the sea.
The line begins with two trochees (DUM-da) but soon shifts to iambic meter (da-DUM). Similarly, line 4 also starts out with trochaic meter:
Fallen | in the | cause of | the free.
Trochaic, or falling, meter is often used to address somber and grim subjects, like the death of patriotic soldiers. By using both trochaic and iambic meter, however, the poem suggests a complication of that mournful mood. Indeed, although the first stanza establishes England's deep grief, the first stanza also hints at England's "pr[ide]," a more positive emotion, at the soldiers' sacrifice.