(written at the Cafe des Westens, Berlin, May 1912)
Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow . . .
Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep.
Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Temperamentvoll German Jews
Drink beer around; -- and there the dews
Are soft beneath a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulated sun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
Where das Betreten's not verboten.
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And of that district I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridge people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
But Grantchester! ah, Grantchester!
There's peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I'm told) . . .
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?
This poem takes me back to Primary and early High School. As they say, “You have to crawl before you can walk…”. This is what caught my imagination and gave me a taste for poetry. The rhyming couplets and the even meter, which some critics find boring and pedestrian, appeal to me. For me it is sheer nostalgia! It transports me to my youth and childhood. The quotation that propelled Rupert Brooke into the national psyche:
“If I should die, think only this of me,
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.”
This is from his fifth war sonnet, “The Soldier.” The war sonnets (this is not the time nor occasion for visiting them) are probably Brooke’s finest poetry, Their quality often clouded because of the sentiments of glory they embody, were out of date almost as soon as they were expressed. Sadly Brooke died, not in the tragic heroism of Flander’s Field but rather more prosaically from sepsis as a result of a mosquito bite. He was en route to the Dardanelles when this happened. This was only six weeks after completing “The Soldier”.
Modernist critics made the Georgian poets obsolete. Brooke was judged to be a popular rather than a consciously literary poet. Having died at such an early age, he was not given the chance to redress this. Had he survived the War and been up against the likes of T.S. Elliot who knows how he would have responded to the challenge?
Of his Collected Poems my favourite is “The Old Vicarage” the poem he wrote in Berlin in the Spring of 1912. The Old Vicarage” named after the house in the Cambridge Village where Rupert Brooke had rooms, is a poem of nostalgia. The village was and still is an English idyll. Sitting at a table in a Berlin café, “The Old Vicarage” is Brooke’s version of “home thoughts from abroad”. Brooke recalls the scene he was missing. The poem shows Brooke’s ability to use verse, not just for varying degrees of musicality, but for scene-painting. The poem is a paean not just to this rural idyll but to English history and its people and to the ease of England compared to the regimentation of Germany. Brooke would see little of his Arcadia but in “The Old Vicarage” Grantchester he left us the perfect picture of it.
He was an English poet known for his war sonnets written during the First World War.
After graduation he toured North America, New Zealand and the Pacific islands. He returned home shortly before the outbreak of World War I. At the outbreak of war he enlisted in a division of the Royal Navy. In 1915 he set sail for the Dardanelles. En route he developed sepsis as a result of a mosquito bite. He died on the Greek island of Skyros and he is buried in olive grove on that island.