Rupert Brooke 1887–1915
English poet, critic, dramatist, essayist, travel writer, and journalist.
Considered England's foremost young poet at the time of his death in 1915, Brooke is best known today for his war poetry and for his personal mystique as the embodiment of idealized youth. Of the war sonnets in 1914, and Other Poems, Brooke's "The Soldier," celebrating a life gladly given in England's service, is world-renowned—hailed for its noble sentiments by many, and scorned for its naiveté by others.
One of three brothers, each of whom died before reaching age thirty, Brooke was born in Rugby, England, where his father served as a schoolmaster at Rugby School, which he attended. He composed two prize poems while at Rugby and entered King's College, Cambridge, in 1906. In 1911 he published Poems, which was regarded even by its detractors as a herald of a major talent. Brooke suffered an emotional breakdown in 1912, following a failed love affair. Brooke embarked on a trip to North America and the South Pacific in 1913. At the outbreak of World War I, he returned to England and received a commission in the Royal Navy. While preparing for the assault on Gallipoli, Turkey, Brooke died of blood poisoning aboard ship in the Aegean Sea. He was buried in an olive grove on the island of Scyros.
Brooke is best remembered for his poems influenced by the onset of World War I. Commissioned an officer in the Royal Naval Division, he completed his famed 1914 sonnets during the early stages of the war, demonstrating in them a romantic, crusading vision typical of the English civilian spirit at that time. His travel poems also have attracted critical attention. Considered one of his best sonnets, "Tiare Tahiti" was inspired by his love for one of the natives he met while visiting the South-Sea island. Another well-regarded poem is his "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester," a whimsical, sentimental revelation of his homesickness while traveling.
The idolatrous praise heaped upon Brooke following his death attracted a tremendous readership to his poetry. Often nostalgic and sentimental, his verse fueled the tragic
"young Apollo" image against which critics have struggled to assess his literary achievement. Shortly after World War I, Brooke's poetry was rejected by critics who viewed his work as little more than the idealistic musings of a pampered darling, objecting most emphatically to his war sonnets for their glorification of war and of the soldier's martyrdom. Present-day commentators, however, while acknowledging Brooke's excesses, have drawn favorable attention to his skill as a sonneteer, his gift for language, and the romantic intensity of his best verse, focusing on a renewed appreciation of Brooke's stylistic accomplishments. More importantly, however, Brooke has come to be viewed, in recognition of both the qualities and the defects of his poetry and character, as the embodiment of his age, closely reflecting the thoughts and sentiments of his pre-War generation. As such, he remains an important figure in the history of English literature.
The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke 1915
1914, and Other Poems 1915
The Poetical Works of Rupert Brooke 1946
Other Major Works
Lithuania (drama) 1915
John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama (essay) 1916
Letters from America (travel essays) 1916
The Prose of Rupert Brooke (essays and criticism) 1956
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SOURCE: "Rupert Brooke," in Neglected Powers: Essays on Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Literature, Barnes & Noble, 1971, pp. 293-308.
[In the following essay, Knight discusses the defining characteristics of Brooke's verse.]
Rupert Brooke belongs, not to a generation, and certainly not to posterity, but to a date: in so far as his name survives, it does so in inevitable connection with 1914. Although it was his generation—the generation of Pound and Eliot, of Joyce and Lawrence, of Epstein and Picasso and Stravinsky—that made the modern world of art, Brooke has no place among them, and consequently no living contact with the present moment. He is a poet of his time, but his time was those few first months of the First World War, when Englishmen still believed that it was sweet and proper to die for one's country, and when Brooke's war sonnets could be read without bitterness or irony.
We think of Brooke, then, as a War Poet. But quite inaccurately. In the first place, it would be more precise to call him an On-the-way-to-the-war Poet, for, with ironic appropriateness, he died of natural causes en route to the Dardanelles campaign, and the emotions that his war sonnets express are not those of a combatant, but of a recruit. The real War Poets—Owen and Sassoon and Graves and Blunden and Rosenberg—came along later, out of the trenches, and spoke with a different tone;...
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SOURCE: "Rupert Brooke," in Edwardian Occasions: Essays on English Writing in the Early Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press, 1972, pp. 144-52.
[In the following essay, Hynes offers a mixed assessment of Brooke's poetry.]
On the mention of Brooke's name we think first either of his five war sonnets or of the famous bare-shouldered photograph by S. Schell, used for the 1915 collection of his Poems and the original of the plaque in Rugby Chapel by Havard Thomas, whose version is in the National Portrait Gallery, where copies are sold. I shall indicate a relation between Brooke's poetry and this portrait, called by Christopher Hassall in his biography Rupert Brooke 'A visual image that met the needs of a nation at a time of crisis'.
Brooke was not obviously fitted for the role of patriot. He had, it is true, certain social advantages. He struck a figure at Rugby and Cambridge, his poetic powers rapidly won attention, and he mixed with leading personalities in literature and politics. He had brilliance and wit. But the general tone of his conversation and writing was iconoclastic and unorthodox; he was a Socialist in politics and a pagan if not atheist in religion. His poetry was often of a kind to shock. He links the aestheticism of the nineties to the realism of postwar writing; he has affinities with both Wilde and Eliot.
Like Byron and Wilde, he had...
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SOURCE: "How Bad was Rupert Brooke?" in Books & Bookmen, Vol. 20, No. 235, April, 1975, pp. 64-6.
[In the following essay, Stanford traces the decline of Brooke's literary reputation.]
Even to have framed this question fifty years ago would have appeared a blasphemy. Rupert Brooke was still our national sacrificial object; our dear dead Anglo-Saxon Apollo. Only one year after his death, in her book Studies of Contemporary Poets (1916), Mary Sturgen identified him with England. 'In him … was manifested the poetic spirit of the race, warm with human passion and sane with laughter.' He had not died on 23 April—Shakespeare's birthday and St George's Day—for nothing. Inscribing his panegyric in The Times for 26 April, 1915, Winston Churchill assured the readers of Brooke's place in posterity: Ά voice had become audible, a note had been struck, more thrilling … than any other … the voice has been swiftly stilled. Only the echoes and the memory remain; but they will linger.' Churchill was Churchill but even voices less prone to sound the trumpet or the clarion attest to the premium put on Brooke at his decease. 'There was no one like him,' declared Harold Munro. 'No one has his frankness, no one his ingenuity, his incisiveness, or his humour.' By 1938, however, when Frank Swinnerton published his somewhat façile classic The Georgian Literary Scene, the climate of opinion had...
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SOURCE: "How Bad was Rupert Brooke? Part 2" in Books & Bookmen, Vol. 20, No. 8, May, 1975, pp. 50-1.
[In the following essay, published as the second installment of Stanford's essay, he deems Brooke's poetry important during his time, but not in the realm of contemporary literature.]
In Rupert Brooke: Four Poems Sir Geoffrey Keynes remarks on the poet's tendency to preserve any small scrap or draft of a poem. The two factors behind this retention were, he believes, laziness (making disposal too troublesome a business) or vanity (inducing thoughts of posthumous fame). Just how well, one might ask, were these conceits of immortality justified?
To measure the degree of success or failure towards which these little scraps of paper point, we have to take Brooke on his own terms and assess him on his merits in writing a quite conscious poetry of youth. This, of course, means not merely seeking to measure how far he incapsulated this personal youth-cult in words but how far he expressed it in words which remain memorable. To exclude from our minds, in the judging of Brooke, all other considerations is not as easy at it may seem. Ever since Matthew Arnold's time, we have, almost automatically, looked to poetry to provide a sort of religious surrogate ('More and more', wrote Arnold in 1880, 'mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us,...
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SOURCE: "Onomastic Devices in the Poetry of Rupert Brooke," in Literary Onomastics Studies, Vol. IX, 1982, pp. 183-208.
[In the following essay, Read explores the diversity and use of place names in Brooke's poetry.]
My interest in the subject of Rupert Brooke's use of place names has arisen from the great diversity of opinion concerning his famous sonnet entitled, "The Soldier." When I was coming into young manhood, in the early 1920s, in the aftermath of World War I (or "The Great War," as its usual name then was), Rupert Brooke's reputation was extremely high. Most people thrilled to his lines:
But in the next decade, the 1930s, when the pacifist outlook became ascendant, Brooke's reputation began to fade, and some of my friends poured scorn on his famous lines. It is a false sentimentality, they pointed out, to say that "some corner of a foreign field" should be called "England." They were not willing to accept what I am now calling an "onomastic device." [In this essay] I wish to consider this and other onomastic devices in the whole context of Rupert Brooke's work, including his famous "Grantchester" poem, so filled with delectable English local names.
Though he is most famous for using English names, Rupert Brooke drew upon several other onomastic worlds. One of these worlds was the classical. It is sometimes forgotten, especially in America, how deeply steeped...
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SOURCE: "Who Was Rupert Brooke?" in Critical Survey, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1990, pp. 185-93.
[In the following essay, Stallworthy challenges the prevailing impression of Brooke as a tormented poet.]
This may seem an odd question to ask on a poet's hundredth birthday, but it was one asked by his oldest friend forty years after his death. Geoffrey Keynes, having selected and edited his letters, had just sent a set of proofs to each of his fellow literary trustees and to a few of Brooke's other friends. To his consternation, several responded with horror, saying in effect: 'The letters to me show the real Rupert, but his posturing in the others distorts the portrait out of all recognition.' In vain did Keynes point out that they each regarded the letters to him or to her (Frances Cornford was one of those most troubled) as expressing the real Rupert and shook their heads over the rest. In vain did he remind them of Brooke's undergraduate letter to him saying 'I attempt to be "all things to all men"; rather "cultured" among the cultured, faintly athletic among athletes, a little blasphemous among blasphemers, slightly insincere to myself …' So strong was the feeling among the poet's friends that Keynes's selection misrepresented him that the book was put on ice, and Christopher Hassall was commissioned to write a biography that would reveal the real Rupert Brooke.
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SOURCE: "Georgian Poetry's False Dawn," in Neophilologus, Vol. LXXV, No. 3, July, 1991, pp. 456-69.
[In the following essay, Moeyes discusses Brooke's place in literary history, asserting that he "is a transitional figure, entering a new age for which he was not prepared."]
Rupert Brooke is regarded as one of the leading lights among the Georgian Poets, the group of poets Edward Marsh anthologised in his five volumes of Georgian Poetry (1911-1922). The Georgians have largely been ignored since the moment they went out of fashion in the mid-1920s, mainly because the Modernists labelled them reactionary, but more recent criticism has convincingly shown that they were in fact, like the Modernists, reacting against the late-Victorian Tory imperialist tradition, represented by such poets as Kipling, Newbolt, Henley, Watson, and Noyes. The Georgians resented their patriotism, rhetoric and pomposity, and instead wanted a poetry that dealt with even the humblest of subjects, written in a more natural language, though, unlike the Modernists, they still believed good poetry could be enjoyed by a large reading audience. The Georgians were, on the whole, Liberal, anti-Victorian, and anti-imperialistic, and from the time the first Georgian Poetry anthology was published in 1912, the Georgians were considered an innovative movement, headed by Rupert Brooke.
Even before that time he had...
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SOURCE: "Brooke's Poetry," in Rupert Brooke, Twayne Publishers, 1994, pp. 31-63.
[In the following essay, Laskowski provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of Brooke's verse.]
Readers of Geoffrey Keynes's edition of The Poetical Works of Brooke, initially published in 1946, will be immediately struck by Keynes's unusual arrangement of the poems in reverse chronological order, with the exception of some fragments Brooke wrote en route to the Dardanelles in 1915. In his edition Keynes has added 38 previously unpublished poems to the 82 originally included in Poems (1911) and 1914 and Other Poems, some of them of little intrinsic merit or interest, perhaps with less justification than Anthony Thwaite's controversial additions to the Collected Poems of Philip Larkin. The effect of such an arrangement gives the appearance of protecting, or at least admitting the lesser value of, Brooke's earliest works. It tacitly—almost implicitly—gives credence to the theory that Brooke's main poetic appeal lies in his legend, which is inextricably linked to the later poems: the myth endorses the work. Keynes's strategy is reminiscent of what has now become a cliché in the organization of biographies, to begin with the death of one's subject, particularly since the first poem in The Poetical Works is "Fragment" (which is separated from Brooke's other final fragments, which are...
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SOURCE: "The Falling House that Never Falls: Rupert Brooke and Literary Taste," in British Poetry, 1900-50: Aspects of Tradition, edited by Gary Day and Brian Docherty, St. Martin's Press, 1995, pp. 37-47.
[In the following essay, Bloom argues that Brooke should be perceived as a modernist poet and urges a reassessment of his work.]
'Rupert Brooke's poetry remains a firm favourite with readers and listeners alike': such might be the opinion of the popular poetry radio programmes broadcast by BBC Radio 4 or, perhaps, the comments in the introduction to yet another anthology of the slim collected works (with a selection of letters added for good measure). Brooke's reputation, which is at stake here, has never rested on anything other than quicksand. The 'worth' or quality of his poetic ability becomes, as has rarely been the case with any but Dylan Thomas, subordinated to a quasibiographical determinism in which the poetry itself plays little part. It is ironic yet it can be said that the value of Brooke's reputation is independent of the very work he did to secure that reputation.
As a 'firm favourite', Brooke is damned as a lower-grade Kiplingesque populist by the academic community whose fare consists of the modernists and those the modernists chose to applaud. Meanwhile Brooke is relegated to the outer corridors of fame, conversing posthumously with the likes of both Ella Wheeler...
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Delany, Paul. The Neo-pagans: Rupert Brooke and the Ordeal of Youth. New York: Free Press, 1987, 270 p.
Chronicles the story of Brooke and his friends, and examines Brooke's poetical philosophy.
Hassall, Christopher. Rupert Brooke: A Biography. Salem, N.H.: Faber & Faber, 1964, 556 p.
Definitive biography on the English poet.
Hastings, Michael. Handsomest Young Man in England: Rupert Brooke. London: Joseph, 1967, 240 p.
Provides a biographical account of the poet.
Cunliffe, J. W. "Masefield and the New Georgian Poets." In English Literature in the Twentieth Century, pp. 292-329. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1935.
Praises 1914, and Other Poems for its power to fire the patriotic spirit of its readers.
Drinkwater, John. "Rupert Brooke." In The Muse in Council: Being Essays on Poets and Poetry, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925. pp. 273-88.
Lauds Brooke's poetic technique.
Lehmann, John. Rupert Brooke: His Life and Legend. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1980, 178 p....
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