May 13, 2021

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Poetry: Rupert Brooke

5 min read


Rupert Brooke 1887-1915

Brooke was known for his idealistic war sonnets.  Yes, he was British but as an American I think we can all relate to his particular kind of Western patriotism. It was unabashed, without apology, rooted in something deep and meaningful because the country stood for something important; independent men who believe in worthy things, unite with others who believe the same. There’s meat on the bones of his belief, rather than the empty plate that a lack of belief is. The men who believe in this type of writing understand sacrifice, understand liberty, and the deep desire to provide it to others.

Critics felt that Brooke received excessive praise for his works. Perhaps they felt his poetry were salads for the soul, when they preferred meat and potatoes. He was but aged 27. Youth that was able to see things that many older men forget to see.

Old enough to be a man, still young in his bones, and capable of writing with a graceful lyricism. Was he sentimental?

Sassoon and Owen wrote about pain and tragedy, about the wreck the War had on men. Brooke found his place in history because his idealism allowed him to write charming poetry. How easy it is to criticize, yet how difficult it is to build something everlasting….

Many people live in a free society and know how special it is to have freedom, and to give liberty to those without it. There are many who live in countries without freedom, and do not understand what they are missing, but they have an intuition. Put any man in a cage and he will likely revolt before his spirit is broken. Some give in, others never will.

His writing style although youthful was simultaneously mature and elegant. The poem, the Soldier, is graceful and at the same time has the depth that men want and the romanticism that youth longs for. It is not shallow for me. And when I read the Soldier again and again, I recall the moments of my youth. Brooke wrote his poetry when England was entering the war. Years later the view was that all was bleak. He illuminated the world for a moment and then he was gone. When we read the words of the dead, for a moment they become alive.

He wrote his poetry at a time when the world was much different, when it seemed less complicated and the race to run off to this War was seen as something romantic rather than something eviscerating. But, the poets of this time would learn a truth. Sassoon, Brooke, Wilson all had an exuberant energy and the uncanny ability to write well.  As an American that deeply loves his country, I can understand Brooke, and I think you will too.

The War Sonnets: V. 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.

the Dead

These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colours of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.

There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.

the Beginning

Some day I shall rise and leave my friends
And seek you again through the world’s far ends,
You whom I found so fair
(Touch of your hands and smell of your hair!),
My only god in the days that were.
My eager feet shall find you again,
Though the sullen years and the mark of pain
Have changed you wholly; for I shall know
(How could I forget having loved you so?),
In the sad half-light of evening,
The face that was all my sunrising.
So then at the ends of the earth I’ll stand
And hold you fiercely by either hand,
And seeing your age and ashen hair
I’ll curse the thing that once you were,
Because it is changed and pale and old
(Lips that were scarlet, hair that was gold!),
And I loved you before you were old and wise,
When the flame of youth was strong in your eyes,
— And my heart is sick with memories.

1914 I: Peace

Now, God be thanked Who has watched us with His hour,
And caught our youth, and wakened us from sleeping,
With hand made sure, clear eye, and sharpened power,
To turn, as swimmers into cleanness leaping,
Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,
Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,
And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary,
And all the little emptiness of love!

Oh! we, who have known shame, we have found release there,
Where there’s no ill, no grief, but sleep has mending,
Naught broken save this body, lost but breath;
Nothing to shake the laughing heart’s long peace there
But only agony, and that has ending;
And the worst friend and enemy is but Death.

1914 III: the Dead

Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold.
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

Blow, bugles, blow! They brought us, for our dearth,
Holiness, lacked so long, and Love, and Pain.
Honour has come back, as a king, to earth,
And paid his subjects with a royal wage;
And Nobleness walks in our ways again;
And we have come into our heritage.

“Rupert Brooke CDV 1” by Edward Hall Speight – NYPL Digital Gallery, digital image ID 484078, digital record ID 301704. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

“P8170206”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons –

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