Saturday, 3 August 2013

"Some corner of a foreign field"

Rupert Brooke (3 August 1887 – 23 April 1915)

"The handsomest young man in England." So said W.B. Yeats of Rupert Brooke, poet and journalist.


Brooke was born in Rugby on 3 August 1887. He studied at Rugby School before going on to Cambridge where he was a founder of the Marlowe Society.
Brooke fell in with the Bloomsbury group where he began a long relationship with Katherine Laird Cox. This relationship collapsed and left Brooke an emotional wreck. As part of his recuperation Brooke toured the US and Canada and began writing a travel column for the Westminster gazette. 

However, it was as a war poet that Brooke was to find fame. In 1915 when The Times Literary Supplement quoted two of his five sonnets (IV: The Dead and V: The Soldier) in full on 11 March and his sonnet V: The Soldier was read from the pulpit of St Paul's Cathedral on Easter Sunday (4 April). Brooke's most famous collection of poetry, containing all five sonnets, 1914 & Other Poems, was first published in May 1915 and, in testament to his popularity, ran to 11 further impressions that year and by June 1918 had reached its 24th impression.

The Soldier
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

During World War I Brooke joined the Royal Navy. He sailed with the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force on 28 February 1915 but developed sepsis from an infected mosquito bite. He died at 4:46 pm on 23 April 1915 in a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island of Skyros in the Aegean on his way to the landing at Gallipoli. As the expeditionary force had orders to depart immediately, he was buried at 11 pm in an olive grove on Skyros, Greece.

On 11 November 1985, Brooke was among 16 First World War poets commemorated on a slate monument unveiled in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. The inscription on the stone was written by a fellow war poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."

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