THE COLLECTED POEMS OF RUPERT BROOKE
by Rupert Brooke
[British Poet — 1887-1915.]
A new Appendix is included in this etext,
consisting of poems ABOUT or TO Rupert Brooke.
The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke
with an introduction by George Edward Woodberry
and a biographical note by Margaret Lavington
Born at Rugby, August 3, 1887
Fellow of King's College, Cambridge, 1913
Sub-Lieutenant, R.N.V.R., September, 1914
Antwerp Expedition, October, 1914
Sailed with British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, February 28, 1915
Died in the Aegean, April 23, 1915
Rupert Brooke was both fair to see and winning in his ways. There was at the first contact both bloom and charm; and most of all there was life. To use the word his friends describe him by, he was "vivid". This vitality, though manifold in expression, is felt primarily in his sensations — surprise mingled with delight —
"One after one, like tasting a sweet food."
This is life's "first fine rapture". It makes him patient to name over those myriad things (each of which seems like a fresh discovery) curious but potent, and above all common, that he "loved", — he the "Great Lover". Lover of what, then? Why, of
"White plates and cups clean-gleaming,
Ringed with blue lines," —
and the like, through thirty lines of exquisite words; and he is captivated by the multiple brevity of these vignettes of sense, keen, momentary, ecstatic with the morning dip of youth in the wonderful stream. The poem is a catalogue of vital sensations and "dear names" as well. "All these have been my loves."
The spring of these emotions is the natural body, but it sends pulsations far into the spirit. The feeling rises in direct observation, but it is soon aware of the "outlets of the sky". He sees objects practically unrelated, and links them in strings; or he sees them pictorially; or, he sees pictures immersed as it were in an atmosphere of thought. When the process is complete, the thought suggests the picture and is its origin. Then the Great Lover revisits the bottom of the monstrous world, and imaginatively and thoughtfully recreates that strange under-sea, whose glooms and gleams and muds are well known to him as a strong and delighted swimmer; or, at the last, drifts through the dream of a South Sea lagoon, still with a philosophical question in his mouth. Yet one can hardly speak of "completion". These are real first flights. What we have in this volume is not so much a work of art as an artist in his birth trying the wings of genius.
The poet loves his new-found element. He clings to mortality; to life, not thought; or, as he puts it, to the concrete, — let the abstract "go pack!" "There's little comfort in the wise," he ends. But in the unfolding of his precocious spirit, the literary control comes uppermost; his boat, finding its keel, swings to the helm of mind. How should it be otherwise for a youth well-born, well-bred, in college air? Intellectual primacy showed itself to him in many wandering "loves", fine lover that he was; but in the end he was an intellectual lover, and the magnet seems to have been especially powerful in the ghosts of the men of "wit", Donne, Marvell — erudite lords of language, poets in another world than ours, a less "ample ether", a less "divine air", our fathers thought, but poets of "eternity". A quintessential drop of intellect is apt to be in poetic blood. How Platonism fascinates the poets, like a shining bait! Rupert Brooke will have none of it; but at a turn of the verse he is back at it, examining, tasting, refusing. In those alternate drives of the thought in his South Sea idyl (clever as tennis play) how he slips from phenomenon to idea and reverses, happy with either, it seems, "were t'other dear charmer away". How bravely he tries to free himself from the cling of earth, at the close of the "Great Lover"! How little he succeeds! His muse knew only earthly tongues, — so far as he understood.
Why this persistent cling to mortality, — with its quick-coming cry against death and its heaped anathemas on the transformations of decay? It is the old story once more: — the vision of the first poets, the world that "passes away". The poetic eye of Keats saw it, —
"Beauty that must die,
And Joy whose hand is ever at his lips
The reflective mind of Arnold meditated it, —
"the world that seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain." —
So Rupert Brooke, —
"But the best I've known,
Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown
About the winds of the world, and fades from brains
Of living men, and dies.
And yet, —
"Oh, never a doubt but somewhere I shall wake;"
Returning, shall give back the golden hours,
Ocean a windless level. . . ."
again, best of all, in the last word, —
"Still may Time hold some golden space
Where I'll unpack that scented store
Of song and flower and sky and face,
And count, and touch, and turn them o'er,
Musing upon them."
He cannot forego his sensations, that "box of compacted sweets". He even forefeels a ghostly landscape where two shall go wandering through the night, "alone". So the faith that broke its chrysalis in the first disillusionment of boyhood, in "Second Best", beautiful with the burden of Greek lyricism, ends triumphant with the spirit still unsubdued. —
"Proud, then, clear-eyed and laughing, go to greet
Death as a friend."
So go, "with unreluctant tread". But in the disillusionment of beauty and of love there is an older tone. With what bitter savor, with what grossness of diction, caught from the Elizabethan and satirical elements in his culture, he spends anger in words! He reacts, he rebels, he storms. A dozen poems hardly exhaust his gall. It is not merely that beauty and joy and love are transient, now, but in their going they are corrupted into their opposites, — ugliness, pain, indifference. And his anger once stilled by speech, what lassitude follows!
Life, in this volume, is hardly less evident by its ecstasy than by its collapse. It is a book of youth, sensitive, vigorous, sound; but it is the fruit of intensity, and bears the traits. The search for solitude, the relief from crowds, the open door into nature; the sense of flight and escape; the repeated thought of safety, the insistent fatigue, the cry for sleep; — all these bear confession in their faces. "Flight", "Town and Country", "The Voice", are eloquent of what they leave untold; and the climax of "Retrospect", —
"And I should sleep, and I should sleep,"