Rupert Brooke World Literature Analysis
Brooke’s facility with verse manifested itself early in his youth, and his technical abilities were fully developed before leaving Cambridge. Influenced by Browning’s use of common language and ordinary personalities, so unlike the poetry of fellow Victorians Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and William Morris, Brooke freely borrowed from and parodied the style and content not only of Browning and Tennyson but also of A. E. Housman and Algernon Charles Swinburne. He mastered the dramatic sonnet form and wrote numerous poems in what has been called a narrative idyll style. Whatever his form, Brooke chose to write in traditional meter rather than experiment in the free-verse approach of Pound and T. S. Eliot. Brooke’s reliance upon such forms is perhaps one reason why his reputation declined among critics, but it also explains in part why he remained popular among general readers.
Brooke’s mature literary life was relatively brief. If he early mastered the forms of poetry, the subject matter of his works and the “voice” of his poems evolved from his boyhood days at Rugby and his years at Cambridge until his death while still in his twenties. Although he worked and reworked his material, his willingness to exclude so many of his early efforts from his first published volume of poetry in 1911 suggests that he realized that many of his poems were not of the highest quality. The collected poems form a rather slight volume, and in terms of mere quantity Brooke could be categorized as a minor poet.
Critics have also complained that Brooke too often intruded sentimentality and artificiality into many of his poems. In poems such as “Ante Aram,” Brooke resorts to archaic diction, convoluted syntax, and vague, romantic description. The resulting language is more Victorian, more Tennysonian, than expected, given Brooke’s avowed aim of a new poetry for the new century, and hardly reflects his praise of Browning’s use of the common speech of the common people.
One of the most apparent elements throughout Brooke’s work is his preoccupation with death, particularly the death of the young. His idealized notion of the sacrificial death appears out of place in the violent historical context of the twentieth century, but it could have resulted from Brooke’s youth: Death can hold a morbid fascination for the young, who have no sense of their own mortality. Perhaps he was also influenced by the Decadent writers who interested him while still a schoolboy. Yet the paradigm for this theme may be Brooke’s own personality; among his last poems, “The Soldier” can be seen as a culmination of his quest for death.
Brooke’s poems also frequently connect death with love. In “Mummia,” he describes the ancient Egyptians drinking the dust of mummies to achieve a state of sexual ecstasy. In the same way, he says that the poet has “sucked all lovers of all time/ To rarify ecstasy,” citing famous lovers such as Helen, Juliet, and Cleopatra, whose tragic lives immortalized their passion. This romantic vision of death as the culmination of love contrasts with poems such as “The Funeral of Youth: Threnody,” where Brooke tells in allegorical fashion the sad lament of those friends of Youth who came to his burial. He includes among these such figures as Laughter, Pride, Joy, Lust, Folly, Grief, Sorrow, Wisdom, Passion, and others who met again at Youth’s funeral, “All except only Love. Love had died long ago.” Death, in this poem, brings the loss of love, rather than its ultimate fulfillment. At other times, death results in the transmutation of love into a kind of Platonic ideal, as in “Tiare Tahiti,” written during his travels in the South Pacific. He notes that, after death,
Instead of lovers, Love shall be;For hearts, Immutability;And there, on the Ideal Reef,Thunders the Everlasting Sea!
Brooke, however, was not always the youthful romanticist or idealist ruminating about death and love. Like Browning, he could also be very much the realist, sometimes punctuating this realism with humor and irony, too much so for some of his contemporaries. Both his publisher and Edward Marsh, his close friend and adviser, objected to the inclusion of two of his sonnets in his first book of poems. In “Libido,” where Brooke writes of sexual conquest, not romantic love, the phrase “your remembered smell most agony” was felt by Marsh and others to be in bad taste. In “A Channel Passage,” the narrator tries to remember his lover in order to avoid becoming physically sick while crossing the English Channel.
Finally, if critics have often rightly criticized Brooke for idealizing the sacrificial death of...
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