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The page of Brooke, Rupert, English biography

Image of Brooke, Rupert
Brooke, Rupert


For one whom Yeats proclaimed "the handsomest young man in England," Rupert Brooke has not aged well. The neo-Romanticism of Brooke and the Georgian Poets was one of the casualties of The Great War. Paul Fussell (in The Great War and Modern Memory) sees irony as one of the by-products of the First World War, and one of the many ironies of the war is that Rupert Brooke is remembered as a war poet at all, because he is actually not a war poet -- not in the same sense that Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Wilfred Owen are war poets. Rupert Brooke is rather a pre-war poet. To borrow Blake's contrast, Brooke wrote Songs of Innocence (if not naïveté), while Sassoon and Owen (and others) wrote Songs of Experience.
Brooke's entire reputation as a war poet rests on only 5 "war sonnets" (6 if you count "Treasure" -- unnumbered in his short sonnet cycle). Brooke's war experience consisted of one day of limited military action with the Hood Battalion during the evacuation of Antwerp. Consequently, his "war sonnets" swell with sentiments of the most general kind on the themes of maturity, purpose and romantic death -- the kind of sentiments held by many (but not all) young Englishmen at the outbreak of the war. Brooke's "war sonnets" are really more a declaration occasioned by the ups and downs of his tumultuous personal life than a call to war for his generation.
Brooke was already a promising young poet when Britain entered the war the day after his 27th birthday. Unfortunately, the publication of his (pre-) "war sonnets" coincided with his almost mythological (pre-war) death: on Easter Sunday, 1915, Dean Inge read his sonnet "The Soldier" from the pulpit of Saint Paul's; on April 23rd (St. George's Day, the traditional observance of Shakespeare's birth) Brooke died in the Aegean Sea (from blood poisoning) on his way to battle at Gallipoli and was buried on the Island of Skyros. Winston Churchill wrote his obituary for The Times, Lascelles Abercrombie for the Morning Post. As D.H. Lawrence exclaimed: "he was slain by bright Pheobus' shaft . . . it was a real climax of his pose . . . bright Pheobus smote him down. It is all in the saga. O God, O God; it is all too much of a piece: it is like madness."
Brooke was born in 1887 at Rugby where his father was a housemaster. His dominating mother exerted a tremendous influence on him. Brooke traveled in Europe where he prepared a thesis, John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama, which won for him a fellowship at King's College, Cambridge. He roamed across North America and the South Seas for the Westminster Gazette sending back narratives and poems. Brooke was an energetic aesthete skilled at playful, irreverent satire ("Heaven") and not afraid to shock his audience with graphic descriptions ("Channel Crossing").
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