Friday, October 20, 2017

The Living Dead


~ Honouring our poetic ancestors ~

The Wayfarers


Is it the hour? We leave this resting-place
Made fair by one another for a while.
Now, for a god-speed, one last mad embrace;
The long road then, unlit by your faint smile.
Ah! the long road! and you so far away!
Oh, I’ll remember! but … each crawling day
Will pale a little your scarlet lips, each mile
Dull the dear pain of your remembered face.

…Do you think there’s a far border town, somewhere,
The desert’s edge, last of the lands we know,
Some gaunt eventual limit of our light,
In which I’ll find you waiting; and we’ll go
Together, hand in hand again, out there,
Into the waste we know not, into the night? 


– Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)



English poet Rupert Brooke's haunting Fragment, Source, which Susan used in the latest Midweek Motif, reminded me about this poet, whose work I was brought up on.

Some of his poetry, in its attempts at poetic language, now seems old-fashioned and even pretentious, with 'thees', 'thous' and inversions. But when he writes from the heart he achieves some minor masterpieces.

This is especially true when he writes of simple, everyday things, as in two of his best-known poems, The Great Lover, in which he celebrates domestic objects as well as the natural world, and the homesick The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. They also reveal his mastery of rhyme. I think this must be the most ingenious rhyme in English poetry:


Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!

It made a great impression on me when I was kid, and I'm still amazed by it.

He also wrote some renowned war poems, and his most famous poem was one of these: The Soldier, which was read from the pulpit of St Paul's Cathedral on Easter Sunday 1915 and has been featured in numerous anthologies ever since. I think it sentimentalises war, but very persuasively, and is also redolent of homesickness.

I love his love poems most of all, and The Wayfarers best of all his love poems.


He died young, aged 27. Although he was known as one of the 'war poets' of the First World War, was commissioned into the Navy and was on the way to Gallipoli at the time of his death, he didn't die in battle but of a mosquito bite that turned septic. He was buried 'in a foreign field' as his most famous poem imagines, but not a field of war. His grave is on the island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea.

It's sad for anyone to die so young, and although he doesn't have the stature of, say, a Wilfred Owen, he was a talented poet whose best work is lasting, and  would surely have gone on to greater things.

He was educated at Rugby, where he won the school poetry prize when he was 18, and at Kings College, Cambridge where, we are told, he was noted for his good looks, intellect and charm as well as his poetic talent.


As an adult he travelled extensively (before war broke out) and wrote travel articles as well as poetry.

You can read more about him at WikipediaPoetry Foundation, or The Academy of American Poets. PoemHunter has his poems, and you can find books by and about him at Amazon.


Material shared in 'The Living Dead' is presented for study and review. Poems, photos and other writings and images remain the property of the copyright owners, where applicable (older poems may be out of copyright). The photo of Rupert Brooke, above, is in the Public Domain.

6 comments:

  1. This article is a nice tribute to Rupert Brooke. It's sad that he died so young.

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  2. I had not known that he died of infection from a mosquito bite. I thought he had died in the war. Interesting. He was so talented; very sad that he died so young. Thanks, Rosemary.

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  3. I'm grateful to read this poem again at this time in my life, and very happy that the "Fragment, Source" reminded you. As always, your discussion took me deeper and gave me more than any one could possibly expect.

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  4. An intriguing biography. What might he have written, if only he'd lived longer? I enjoyed the poem. Rhyme - done well - and his is masterful ... stirs the soul. Thanks for this, Rosemary.

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  5. I think the best poetry is full of wisdom. It astonishes me that someone so young could write from a rich, confidant pool of wisdom. Sad that he died so young. I enjoyed the poem you selected and can see why he was one of your favorites.

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  6. After reading your article, Rosemary, I find myself very sad that Rupert did not live longer. I agree that what you shared must be one of the most ingenious rhymes of English poetry. He really was inspired. "The Wayfarers" is indeed a beautiful poem!

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