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.