Rupert Brooke Poetry: British Analysis
Anyone who wishes to be objective in his evaluation of Rupert Brooke’s short poetic career must acknowledge Brooke’s weaknesses as well as his strengths. There is the untempered voice of boyish spontaneity, the popularizer of mindless and almost laughable patriotic sentimentalism, the friendly versifier of late Georgian poetry that did little but describe nature redundantly. This Brooke penned such lines as “There was a damned successful Poet; There was a Woman like the Sun./ And they were dead. They did not know it” (“Dead Men’s Love”); he probably deserves ridicule for having done so. On the other hand, fortunately, there is also the exuberant and mature voice of a craftsperson, the defender of the noble sentiments of a nation in crisis, and the innovative artist who sought freshness and vitality even as he worked within traditional forms. This Brooke deserves acclaim.
The best approaches to understanding and appreciating the poetry of Brooke are to reveal the themes of place and sentiment that dominate his works, and to recognize the fascinating way in which he blends structural integrity and fluency, which appears spontaneous, passionate, and bordering on the experimental.
Perhaps the work that most reveals these traits is “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.” Written in Berlin in 1912, this unusual poem, sometimes flippantly comic and other times grossly nostalgic, shows Brooke’s tendency to idealize the past, or the “other place,” wherever and whenever he was not. Written in octosyllabic couplets, it can be praised for the clarity and tension of its best lines; it can also be condemned for the immature slackness of its worst. A homesick traveler, Brooke sits at a café table in Berlin, conscious of the activity, much of it repulsive, about him. He begins with a graceful recounting of the natural splendor of Grantchester and its environs, but these pleasant thoughts are rudely interrupted by the guttural sound of the German language spoken around him—“Du lieber Gott!”—which sets up an immediate and abrupt passage in which the “here” and “there” are effectively juxtaposed.
The sudden introduction of a phrase, in Greek, which means “if only I were,” is a nice touch (linking classical and British civilization), followed by repetition of his desire, to be “in Grantchester, in Grantchester.” There is a long catalog of reasons why one would wish to be “in Grantchester,” detailing the natural splendor of the place and much more. Among the many pleasures, the most notable are the educational tradition (especially a reverence for classics), familiar and comfortable personalities, and the respect for truth and decorous behavior that may be found there.
It is true that this poem is extended far too long and becomes tediously redundant; it is just as true that some of the lines cause the reader to cringe, often because Brooke seems not to have considered the veracity of his assertions (“And men and women with straight eyes,/ Lithe children lovelier than a dream”), at other times because his slickness is only cute (“Ah God! to see the branches stir/ Across the moon at Grantchester!”). Still, one finds “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester” to be solid and mostly complete, if slightly flawed. First, Brooke manages to describe Grantchester fully, with sufficient detail to make the reader understand why the poet is moved to such excess and to sympathize with him. This is not only a celebration of pastoral elegance but also a characterization of the people of Grantchester verging on a statement of values tending toward thematic richness. The vocabulary of fiction employed here is no accident, as the poem has many qualities of the introductory chapters of a novel, complete with protagonist and dramatic action. Second, there is an irony in some of the passages that establishes a tone distinctly superior to juvenile “romanticizing.”
In short, “The Old Vicarage,...
(The entire section is 1,675 words.)