RUPERT CHAWNER BROOKE
| Poet, academic, soldier and an ardent supporter of the Aestheticism. Robert Chawner Booke was an active advocate of the European tensions that characterize the period of the World War I. |
He was born in Rugby, in 1887 and he had a peaceful childhood. As an adult, he was a handsome and sportive man, a clever and hardworking student, and a truly disarming personality, therefore he had acquired admirers of both sexes. The poet Yeats had characterized him ‘the prettiest young man of England'. Apart from the above virtues, Brooke demonstrated artistic creativity. Inspired by Browning, he had begun writing verses from an early age.
In 1906, he was accepted to King's College of Cambridge and he immediately became an active member of the social life at his new environment. His acquaintances included E.M.Forster, Maynard Kanes and Virginia Wolf. He took up activities like acting and he became the president of the branch of the Fabian Society of his College. Being so busy, he might have neglected - at a certain point - his studies in Classics.
When he left Cambridge, he moved to Grandchester, where he took up a research and he wrote poems that constituted a selection which he simply called, Poems 1911. At the same time, he visited Germany, where he learned the language. Brooke was engaged to Noel Olivier, but that relationship did not last, due to his love for Catherine Cox, a colleague at the Fabian Society. His personal, as well as his social relationships begun to shake. This drove him to a kind of melancholy and made him travel constantly to England, Germany and - after medical prescription - to Cannes. Things improved in 1912, when Brooke met Edward Marsh, a former student of King's College, who at the time was occupied with literary activities.
At that time, Brooke managed to complete his research, become accepted at Cambridge and be a part of the elit of a literary society, meeting Henry James, Yeats, Bernard Shaw, Cathleen Nesbit - with whom he became very close - and Violet Asquith, daughter of the Prime Minister. His political activity as a defender of the weak made him an object of romantic admiration.
In 1913, he traveled to America, New Zealand, and Tahiti, where he wrote the most efficient poetry of his career. He also formed a relationship with a native girl, with whom it is said he had a daughter. However, his limited financial supplies forced him to return to England in July 1914.
The War broke out a few weeks after his coming back from Tahiti. Thanks to Marsh's acaintances, Brooke joined the navy participated at the defence of Antwerp, in October 1914. After the victory, Brooke expected the reformation, but the first seizure of flu came along with a sequence of illnesses during the War. As his health declined, his literary activity flourished. At that period, Brooke wrote five poems which were included to the Poetry Canon of World War I.
On October 27th 1915, he sailed to Dardanelia with the navy, but trouble with the enemy forces obliged them to change course. Consequently, until March 1915, Brooke was in Egypt. He was not deprived of new adventures there. He visited the pyramids, he was trained along with the other solders, he had a seizure of sunstroke and dysentery. His War Sonnets started being recognized in England. He was offered a chance to be exempted from the front line and serve elsewhere. Brooke refused. In April, they sailed to the island of Skyros. His constitution was already weak from the sequence of illnesses he suffered. An insect bite proved to be fatal. In April 23rd, he died in Tris Boukes with blood poisoning. His friends buried him there, even though his mother was planning a grandiose funeral back home. A selection of Brooke's last poems was published in June 1915. It sold well.
The reviews his friends wrote for him established him as a handsome, active warrior-poet, an image that characterizes the pre-war culture. Cornford calls him ‘a young Apollo, with golden-hair'. However, there were less favourable reviews, like the one of Virginia Woolfe, who discerns a puritanical tendency in Brookes poetry.
The truth is that Brooke was not really a World War I poet, simply because he did not have the time to experience it fully. His experience as a soldier was confined mostly in exercises and manoevres he went through with his fellow soldiers, at a time that victory seemed close and idealism was not bound with the atrocities of the War later on. Brooke expresses an active romanticism, according to which death is a heroic act of patriotism. His instinct in war did not have the time to grow and be a part of his poetry as much as that of the established War poets, like Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sasoon, who faced the terrors of war and the acts that shook the consciousness of the nations.
As it is, Rupert Brooke was a very promising young poet, who passed before he was able to demonstrate fully his poetic potential. His death established him as a symbol of the pure idealist patriot, the very image he exalts through his poetry.