Rupert Brooke (1887)
It was on this date, August 3, 1887, that the Edwardian British poet W.B. Yeats called “The most handsome man in England,” Rupert Brooke was born in Rugby. He was educated at Rugby School (where his father was housemaster) and King’s College, Cambridge, distinguishing himself as both student and athlete. He was popular on account of his good looks and eventually counted among his friends E.M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, and Edward Thomas.
His poetry reflected the good times had by the upper crust in England before World War One. His 1914 and Other Poems (1915) shows him to be a freethinker, especially in “Heaven,” which satirizes the Christian myth:
…Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
…And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
…But somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
…And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.
Other poems shed doubt on immortality, for example, “Mutability”:
Dear, we know only that we sigh, kiss, smile;
Each kiss lasts but the kissing; and grief goes over;
Love has no habitation but the heart.
Poor straws! on the dark flood we catch awhile,
Cling, and are borne into the night apart.
The laugh dies with the lips, `Love’ with the lover.
Had Brooke lived longer, his romanticizing of warfare might have worn thin, and his occasional poetic references to God might have completed their obvious move toward Agnosticism. As an officer in the British Army, Brooke sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on February 28, 1915. He became ill from an insect bite left untreated. Off the island of Lemnos in the Aegean, on his way to the battle at Gallipoli, Rupert Brooke died on 23 April 1915. The 27-year-old poet was buried on the island of Skyros.
Originally published August 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.