Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Rupert Brooke
How should I know? The enormous wheels of will  
  Drove me cold-eyed on tired and sleepless feet.  
Night was void arms and you a phantom still,  
  And day your far light swaying down the street.  
As never fool for love, I starved for you;
  My throat was dry and my eyes hot to see.  
Your mouth so lying was most heaven in view,  
  And your remembered smell most agony.  
Love wakens love! I felt your hot wrist shiver  
  And suddenly the mad victory I planned
  Flashed real, in your burning bending head...
My conqueror's blood was cool as a deep river  
  In shadow; and my heart beneath your hand  
  Quieter than a dead man on a bed.

Rupert Brooke was a poet who died far too young.  His most famous work, the sonnet sequence 1914 and Other Poems, appeared in 1915. Later that year, after taking part in the Antwerp Expedition, he died of blood poisoning from a mosquito bite while en route to Gallipoli with the Navy. He was buried on the island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea.

Following his death at age 28, Brooke, who was already famous, became a symbol in England of the tragic loss of talented youth during the war.  He was born in England in 1887, combined literary talent with legendary good looks, entered Cambridge in 1913, wrote a few dozen exquisite poems, joined the Royal Navy to go off to the Great War in 1914 and died in the Aegean seven months later. The artist/soldier is a kind of hero that has not been present in cultures on either side of the Atlantic in decades, but World War I vaunted and cut down many. Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Alan Seeger: all dead, all in their prime.

 While an undergraduate he attracted the amorous attentions of both men and women, but it was not until 1909, at the age of twenty-two, that he had his first sexual encounter. It was with a man. He described his seduction of Denham Russell-Smith (a former fellow student at Rugby) in some detail. ("My right hand got hold of the left half of his bottom, clutched it, and pressed his body into me. The smell of sweat began to be noticeable. At length we took to rolling to and fro over each other, in the excitement.")

James Strachey, brother of Lytton Strachey of the Bloomsbury Group, fell deeply in love with Brooke, and while the poet did not return the intensity of feeling, he did hold Strachey in high regard.  Strachey is probably Brooke's most famous admirer. The two men exchanged correspondence for the last decade of Brooke's life. 

And though Brooke remains famous primarily for his war poems, he wrote a number of love poems as well. The sonnet above, "Libido," is his most elegant; its theme is a burning bed–inspired midnight visit to a sleeping paramour. There is little more beautiful than the image of a milky Adonis leaving his tangled sheets to slip into his lover's bedroom and wake him with a kiss, until we recall Brooke's fate, and know that only the embracing arms of war awaited him on his final night.  The passion of the poem does, however, show how passionate Brooke was as does his above description of his passionate evening with Russell-Smith.


Anonymous said...

My only complaint about this posting is that you used an image of another guy instead of Rupert Brooke. He was extremely handsome and heads tended to turn when he entered the room. He seemed oblivious to the effect that he had on other people. Otherwise, a very good posting. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. I looked up Rupert Brooke's picture. He certainly was a handsome man, but not one I would have ever heard of had you not posted!

Peace <3