Among the losses that the World War has caused--many of them losses
that can never be made good--is that of the promising young English
poet, Rupert Brooke.
He was a fine type in mind and body. His father was a teacher in the
great English school at Rugby, and here the boy learned to write, and
to play cricket, tennis, and football. He was interested in every form
of athletics and was strong and skillful
t all. He was a great walker
and a fine diver and swimmer. He was said to have been one of the
handsomest Englishmen of his day, tall, broad, easy, and graceful in
his movements, with steady blue eyes, and a wavy mass of fair hair.
He had traveled much in France, Germany, Italy, the United States,
Canada, and the South Seas, where he visited Stevenson's home in Samoa.
Of all lands, however, he loved England best.
When the war broke out, Brooke said, "Well, if Armageddon's on, I
suppose I should be there." He enlisted, was commissioned as
lieutenant, and was sent almost immediately with the English forces to
relieve Antwerp, at that time besieged by the Germans. This experience,
lying day after day in trenches under German fire, followed by the
terrible retreat by night with the thousands of Belgians who had lost
everything except their lives, changed the careless, happy youth into a
man. He was but twenty-seven years old when he enlisted. He wrote but
little poetry after his enlistment, but it is all of a finer, more
spiritual quality than any of his previous work.
He spent the following winter training in England, and then joined the
British Expeditionary Forces for the Dardanelles. He never reached
there, however, for he died at Scyros on April 23, 1915, and was buried
by torchlight at night, in an olive grove on the island.
One of his friends, Wilfred Gibson, has paid a beautiful tribute to him
in a short poem entitled "The Going." It is a tribute that might well
be offered to any of the thousands of young heroes from many lands who
have gone with a sudden glory in their young eyes to give all, that
human liberty should not be lost.
I do not understand.
I only know
That, as he turned to go,
And waved his hand,
In his young eyes a sudden glory shone,
And I was dazzled by a sunset glow--
And he was gone
Death appeared to be in his mind constantly after his terrible
experience at Antwerp, but he seems never to have feared it. It is
really the subject of all of his five sonnets written in 1914, and
these are the best of his work. He thought constantly of England and of
all that she had done for him and meant to him. He thought also of the
little meaningful things of life, and put them into these
sonnets--dawn, sunset, the beautiful colors of the earth, music,
flowers, the feel of furs, and the touch of a cheek. Strange that he
should have thought of the touching of fur. It probably gave him a
strange sensation as it does to many. And then he thought of water and
its movement in the wind, and its warmth under the sun, which seemed to
him like life, just as its freezing under the frost seemed to him like
death. All of this and more he put into a beautiful sonnet entitled
These hearts were woven of human joys and cares,
Washed marvellously with sorrow, swift to mirth.
The years had given them kindness. Dawn was theirs,
And sunset, and the colors of the earth.
These had seen movement, and heard music; known
Slumber and waking; loved; gone proudly friended;
Felt the quick stir of wonder; sat alone;
Touched flowers and furs and cheeks. All this is ended.
There are waters blown by changing winds to laughter
And lit by the rich skies, all day. And after,
Frost, with a gesture, stays the waves that dance
And wandering loveliness. He leaves a white
Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,
A width, a shining peace, under the night.
Note how significant is every human experience which he mentions from
"the quick stir of wonder" which the youth feels, to the kindness which
comes with years. "They had seen movement" is strange, and yet many
like Rupert Brooke are fascinated with movement and see life chiefly in
motion,--in smiles and steps.
His finest poem, however, is the last of the five sonnets and is
entitled "The Soldier." Here he pours out his heart in love of England
and in the pride that he feels in being an Englishman. Read France or
America or some other worthy homeland in place of England and it will
appeal to other hearts beside Englishmen. It is a beautiful poem, one
that will live forever.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever 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.
One of our American poets, George Edward Woodberry, has beautifully
There is a grave in Scyros, amid the white and pinkish marble of
the isle, the wild thyme and the poppies, near the green and
blue waters. There Rupert Brooke was buried. Thither have gone
the thoughts of his countrymen, and the hearts of the young
especially. It will long be so. For a new star shines in the
Ever the faith endures,
England, my England--
"Take us and break us: we are yours,
England, my own!
Life is good, and joy runs high
Between English earth and sky:
Death is death; but we shall die
To the song on your bugles blown,
To the stars on your bugles blown."
 BASED ON "THE COLLECTED POEMS OF RUPERT BROOKE," COPYRIGHT BY JOHN