Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Whilst MTL was choosing a poem for Valentine’s Day I noticed an old book of tooled leather embossed with gold. It was a poetry book by Rupert Brooke. MTL’s mother had passed it on to him but originally it had belonged to his great aunt, who was Matron at a hospital in Edinburgh. The book was inscribed to Miss ------- with best wishes from --------- who apparently was a famous surgeon. This captured my imagination. I suppose it wouldn’t very odd for a surgeon to give a Matron a book, but a poetry book by Rupert Brooke? I fantasised about a hopeless love affair.

I have always been fascinated by Rupert Brooke– a golden boy with his floppy hair and aesthetic good looks, tragically cut down in his prime in the Great War by an infected mosquito whilst crossing the Aegean Sea. He was buried in Skyros. Yeats described him as ‘the handsomest young man in England.’
He was born at Rugby in 1887 where his father was a housemaster and his mother was quite domineering. He won a fellowship to King’s College Cambridge. At one time he lived in Grantchester at The old Vicarage, now the home of the novelist Jeffrey Archer and his wife, the ‘fragrant’ Mary.

He was friendly with the Bloomsbury set and, with his boyish good looks, was confused about his sexuality. When he met Henry James in 1909 he said ‘I pulled my fresh boyish stunt’ and bewitched the novelist. He travelled for the Westminster Gazette and whilst on his travels, was said to have fathered a child by a Tahitian woman. He died en route to Gallipoli, during the war, and Winston Churchill spoke at his funeral.

He was remembered as a war poet but was more of a pre-war poet. Blake described his work as ‘Songs of Innocence’ in contrast to the works of the actual war poets, Sassoon and Owen, which he described as ‘Songs of Experience’
The Great War started the day after his 27th birthday and the publication of his sonnets coincided with his death on Easter Sunday 1915.

A young Apollo, golden haired,
Stands dreaming on the verge of strife.
Magnificently unprepared,
For the long littleness of life.’
Frances Cornford

Going back to my fantasy: what did the Matron think when she read;-

Love awakens love! I felt your hot wrist shiver
And suddenly the mad victory I planned
Flashed real, in your burning bending head…
My conqueror’s blood was cool as a deep river
In shadow; and my heart beneath your hand
Quieter than a dead man on a bed.

Odd that Brooke should write in 1914:-

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

And finally the lines that will forever be associated with him, from the old Vicarage, Grantchester:-

Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain?...oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

MTL pointed out that the clock actually was stopped, not at ten to three but at twenty past four. There’s poetic license for you!


apprentice said...

This is a great piece Pat.
I did the war poets at school so this brought my final year of English lit back to me.

Owen and Sassoon produced some stunning work, who knows what Brooke might have written had he lived to see the war change from an adventure to the slaughter of a generation.
The book's a beauty. If you want a valuation try a search on this site:
Though I'm sure you'd never sell it.

PI said...

Thanks Anna ! that makes it worth while. I doubt if MTL would dream of selling it but will tell him and he'll probably look after it more carefully. As F:lux said it's a pleasure just to handle it.

R. Sherman said...

Isn't better that you don't know the circumstances surrounding the gift? I'm sure you had more fun thinking about steamy romances than had you discovered some banal backstory.

BTW, I always liked the English "War Poets." One wonders what Brooke would have written had he experienced the hell of Gallipoli.


PI said...

Randall : you're probably right but I do it anyway. To my shame I know nothing about Gallipoli but I know a man who does. I'm off to quiz MTL. Thanks!

kenju said...

He should be included with English Romantic Poets, but I guess the timing is off for that. I'm going to look up some of his work. It intrigues me.

(P.S. Do you in the UK call them English Romantic poets???)


Supurb poet. Not that a punk like me'd know of course...

PI said...

Judy: I'm no expert but I would certainly include him with English/British Romantic Poets along with Byron, Shelley,Keats, Coleridge etc. It's probably better to say British so as not to exclude the Scots,Welsh and Irish.
No, on second thoughts the ones i have named are English so no need to be PC.

PI said...

4d: I know you can be poetic when you choose!

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

This is a great post, Pat. It must hve been lovely to come across a book like that. I want to say "Ooooh Matron!" all Kenneth Williamsy, but that kind of coursens the romantic possibilities for the surgeon and the matron. What a cool find.

I'm no expert on Brookes but I know that he went off to "the war to end all wars" full of enthusiasm and, like Kenju says, romance for the fight. I bet a lot of young men did, poor sods not knowing in their innocence the inglorious meat-grinder WWI would become.

I know Churchill comes out of Galipoli looking pretty bad and that Galipoli itself was one of the war's worst meat-grinders as far as the Brits and Australians were concerned but, after reading this post, I want to go and find out more about it, and Brookes.

Thanks for telling us this one, Pat. Your posts always sparkle and frequently inspire. My evening's been cancelled and has been re-set for an internet odyssey into the worlds of Rupert Brookes and Galipoli.

PI said...

Sam: I'll look out for you in Gallipoli. MTL has given me a potted version but I want to see for myself.
Your generous remarks make me realise tht I am a frustrated professor - pity about the bird-brain!

Polly said...

My great-grandfather was killed at Gallipoli and my great-grandmother never forgave Churchill (I think he might have redeemed himself a little in WW11). With the wonders of the internet I have seen the memorial there, I only wish my grandmother could have.

PI said...

Polly; great to have you back.I also looked up Galipoli - they spell it both ways. I don't blame your great grandmothr for blaming Churchill. His rhetoric was excellent but he was ruthless with men's lives. Not just in war time but during the General Strike.

MissMeliss said...

Hello, Michele sent me.

I enjoyed this entry very much - it's made me want to head over to the library and borrow several volumes of poetry.

PI said...

Hi missmeliss: that's good to hear. Thenk you!

carli said...

I am going to sound so freaking stupid right now, but I thought Rupert Brooke wasn't real!

His work is part of a plotline in an episode of MASH. Klinger wins a book of Brooke's work in a poker game, and hands it off to Radar, who uses it to try and get a girl. He doesn't really understand the poem, which includes the word "slaking." At the end of the episode, after the girl starts kissing him uncontrollably, he says, "I've been slaked!"

I obviously know much more about sitcoms than poetry.

PI said...

Carli believe me i have enormous gaps in my general knowledge and I don't think you are stupid. You might like his poetry?

surcie said...

I've never read his poetry. . .but I've definitely seen that MASH episode!

PI said...

Surcie: I'm beginning to wish I'd seen it myself!