A statue of Rupert Brooke in Rugby
Rupert Chawner Brooke (August 3, 1887 – April 23, 1915) was a British poet known for his idealistic War Sonnets written during the First World War (especially The Soldier), as well as for his poetry written outside of war, especially The Old Vicarage, Grantchester and The Great Lover. He was also known for his boyish good looks, which prompted W. B. Yeats to describe him as "the handsomest young man in England".
Brooke was born at 5 Hillmorton Road in Rugby, Warwickshire, England, the son of a William Parker Brooke, a Rugby schoolmaster and Ruth Mary Brooke née Cotterill. He attended Hillbrow Prep School before being educated at Rugby School. He became a fellow of King's College, Cambridge in 1913. Brooke made friends among the Bloomsbury group of writers, some of whom admired his talent, while others, both male and female, were more impressed by his good looks. Brooke belonged to another literary group known as the Georgian Poets, and was the most important of the Dymock poets, associated with the Gloucestershire village of Dymock, where he spent some time before the war. He also lived in the Old Vicarage, Grantchester (a house now occupied by Jeffrey Archer and his wife Mary Archer).
Brooke toured the United States and Canada to write travel diaries for the Westminster Gazette and visited several islands in the South Seas. It was later revealed that he may have fathered a daughter with a Tahitian woman (Taatamata) with whom he seems to have enjoyed his most complete emotional relationship . He was also romantically involved with the actress Cathleen Nesbitt. Brooke was once engaged to Noel Olivier, whom he met while she was a 15-year-old at the progressive Bedales School. Despite these relationships, Booke struggled with his sexuality his entire life. His attraction to members of his own sex was something he wrote about often - notably, a descriptive (if self-centered) account of his losing his virginity to another boy, his suggestion that a school-master "delights to nip in the bud almost wisely, for all other boys are beasts," and his many accounts of being desired and desiring other boys, especially one whom he referred to as "one with the form of a Greek God." He also frequented the literary circles of Robbie Ross and other famous homosexuals of the time. However, unable to feel either truly homosexual or heterosexual, and without the label of "bisexual" in social use, Brooke often became angry with himself and his lovers. This led to an unhappy and frustrated romantic life. "Henry James met Rupert Brooke in Cambridge in 1909, when Brooke acknowledged 'I pulled my fresh, boyish stunt' and bewitched the novelist".
His accomplished poetry gained many enthusiasts and followers and he was taken up by Edward Marsh, who brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty. He was commissioned into the Navy and took part in the Royal Naval Division's Antwerp expedition in October 1914. He sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on February 28, 1915 but developed septic pneumonia from an infected mosquito bite. He died at 4.20pm on April 23, 1915 off the island of Lemnos in the Aegean on his way to a battle at Gallipoli. As the expeditionary force had orders to depart immediately, he was buried at 11pm in an olive grove on the island of Skyros, Greece. His grave remains there today.
As a side-note, Rupert Brooke's brother, 2nd Lt. William Alfred Cotterill Brooke was a member of the 8th Battalion London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) and was killed in action near Le Rutoire Farm on the historic Loos battlefield on June 14, 1915, aged 24. He is buried in Fosse 7 Military Cemetery (Quality Street), Mazingarbe, Pas de Calais, France. He had only joined the battalion on May 25 .
Brooke's poetry gives us a glimpse of a golden era in England just before the First World War.
His early poetry was classically inspired, with death as its most frequent theme throughout. Later, he wrote more from his personal experience gained in the South Seas and later in his brief military career. The shortness of his life added to his reputation, especially at a time when so many young men were being killed. Amongst his works were five War Sonnets, a sixth sonnet – The Treasure – and The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. Winston Churchill wrote his obituary in The Times of April 26, 1915, saying "he advanced to the brink ... with absolute conviction of the rightness of his country's cause". Brooke's friends complained that the heroic myth of Brooke's patriotic self-sacrifice was deliberately exaggerated to encourage more young men to enlist. Since Brooke's death, the name Rupert has been used as a term of mockery for any young Army officer with a public school education. Generations of school children would be taught the opening patriotic lines from 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." The patriotic poems of Brooke are often compared to the anti-war poems of Siegfried Sassoon who, ironically, spent the majority of the war in active service, yet survived.
- Poems, Sidgwick & Jackson (London) 1911
- Georgian Poetry, 1911-1912, 1912 (co-compiler with Edward Marsh)
- Lithuania: A Drama in One Act 1915
- 1914 & Other Poems, Sidgwick & Jackson 1916
- Letters from America 1916 (originally published in the Westminster Gazette)
- Mike Read, Forever England – The Life of Rupert Brooke, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh & London, 1997, ISBN 1-85158-995-3
- Nigel Jones, Rupert Brooke – Life, Death & Myth, Richard Cohen Books, London, 1999, ISBN 1-86066-171-8
- Norton, Rictor (ed.) My Dear Boy:Gay Love Letters through the Centuries. Leyland Publications, San Francisco. 1998 ISBN 0-943595-71-1
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