Rupert Chawner Brooke
Occupation: Poet and Naval Officer
Born: 3 August 1887 in Rugby, Warwickshire
Died: 23 April 1915 while at sea in the Aegean Sea
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Son of William Parker Brooke, a schoolmaster, and Ruth Mary Cotterill, a school matron.
Named after his great-grandfather, Rupert Brooke was the third of four children raised in a typically affluent family. He attended local prep schools before joining Rugby School where he studied Latin and Greek.
He began writing poetry at a young age, winning the school poetry prize in 1905. During his time at Rugby School, he met St John Lucus, a well known English poet, who became a mentor to him.
Prior to attending college, Brooke travelled in Europe, before returning to England to join King’s College in Cambridge.
Brooke was well known for his striking good looks and charming nature. Irish poet W.B. Yeats described him as the most handsome young man in England and he was popular among his peers.
Brooke enjoyed spending time with his friends outdoors in nature, so much so that this group of companions gained the nickname of the Neo-Pagans.
Brooke moved in many circles and was actively involved in intellectual, political and writers groups associated with the university, where he mixed with other writers and prolific characters including Henry James, Virginia Woolf, and George Mallory. He also helped found a theatre group in which he enjoyed acting.
Brooke was viewed with tremendous talent for his poetic craft, particularly by other prominent poets of his time, including Robert Frost and Edward Thomas. His pre-war poems resembled those of typical Georgian poetry; idealistic, fashionable, and respected, with themes of love, nature, and youth. His first collection, Poems, was published in 1911.
Although he was highly popular, his love life was troubled. He had been romantically involved with other young men before falling in love with three women between 1908 and 1912. When the third relationship failed, Brooke suffered a severe emotional crisis. He left England to travel in France and Germany.
During his time in Germany, he penned one of his most popular poems, The Old Vicarage, Granchester, and returned to England to publish his second anthology Georgian Poetry 1911-12 which had a strong anti-Victorian style.
Further turmoil in his personal life caused Brooke to experience a mental breakdown in 1913. Brooke’s recuperation was supported by travel, this time to America and Canada, where he wrote travel diaries for the Westminster Gazette. These were later collected and published in Letters from America in 1916.
When travelling home to England, Brooke chose the long route and sailed the Pacific, spending seven months in the South Seas.
This was a period of stability and happiness for Brooke and he wrote some of his best poems during this time after falling in love with a local woman, who he wrote of in his poems Tiare Tahiti and The Great Lover. Brooke is rumoured to have fathered a child with his lover.
Despite his happiness, Brooke returned to England in the spring of 1914. When war broke out, Brooke enlisted for service, joining the Royal Naval Division under the command of Winston Churchill. He was sent to Antwerp, Belgium, and quickly became a well-known war poet to his nation.
A lull in fighting gave him the opportunity to write his most famous work, 1914 and Other Poems, published in 1915. The collection includes The Dead and The Soldier.
The Soldier was read out at the Easter Sunday service in St Paul’s Cathedral, along with prayers for the soldiers on the front line and for those who had lost their lives. The first stanza of The Dead is inscribed on to the base of the Royal Naval Division War Memorial in London.
In spring 1915, Brooke’s ship left Antwerp and set sail for the Gallipoli landing. Brooke was bitten by a mosquito which developed into blood poisoning.
Brooke died from sepsis on 23 April 1915 at sea in the Aegean Sea, aged 27 years old. The friends he made onboard buried him in an olive grove on the island of Skyros.
All of England mourned his death and Winston Churchill described Brooke as “England’s noblest son”.
Rupert Brooke was a critically acclaimed literary hero before his death. His early war poems reflected the mood of England at the time; graceful, and of hope and patriotism, a stark contrast to the realistic and brutal poetry written in the later stages of the war.
On 11 November 1985, Brooke was commemorated at Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey, along with fifteen other soldier-poets of World War I.
Rupert Brooke Quotes:
“If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is forever England.”
“I know what things are good: friendship and work and conversation. These I shall have.”
“A kiss makes the heart young again and wipes out the years.”