Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) is the most famous of the first generation war poets of England. He also belongs to those who are called the Georgian poets, who glorified the British empire (and England) of the early twentieth century.
Brooke justified and glorified the colonial craze of England to the extent that is jingoistic and disgusting to the modern (non-English) reader, but he in his own times was influenced what was then proudly and seriously taken of the white man’s burden”! Brooke was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, and educated at King’s College, University of Cambridge.
He was born into a well-to-do, academic family; his father was a housemaster at Rugby School, where Rupert was educated before going on to King’s College, Cambridge. He was a good student and athlete, and – in part because of his strikingly handsome looks – a popular young man who eventually numbered among his friends E. M. Forster, Maynard Keynes, Virginia Woolf, and Edward Thomas. Even as a student, he was familiar in literary circles and came to know many important political, literary, and social figures before the war.
Rupert Brooke as a War Poet
Brooke is remembered as a “war poet” who inspired patriotism in the early months of the Great War. Jon Stallworthy comments on the unfairness of this assessment but acknowledges that Brooke assumed a symbolic role that eventually turned into the myth of a young and beautiful fallen warrior. Stallworthy notes that “England at that time needed a focal point for its griefs, ideals, and aspirations, and the valedictory that appeared in The Times [April 26, 1915] over the initials of Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, sounded a note that was to swell over the months and years that followed.
The thoughts to which he gave expression in the very few incomparable war sonnets which he has left behind will be shared by many thousands of young men moving resolutely and blithely forward into this, the hardest, cruelest, and the least-rewarded of all the wars that men have fought. “They are a whole history and revelation of Rupert Brooke himself, joyous, fearless, versatile, deeply instructed, with classic symmetry of mind and body, he was all that one would wish England’s noblest sons to be in days when no sacrifice but the most precious is acceptable, and the most precious is that which is most -freely proffered”.
Yeats proclaimed of Brooke as “the most handsome young man in England.” The neo-Romanticism of Brooke and the Georgian Poets was one of the casualties of The Great War. Paul Fussell sees irony as one of the by-products of the First World War, and one of the many ironies of the war is that Rupert Brooke is remembered as a war poet at all because he is actually not a war poet – not in the same sense that Sassoon, Robert Graves, and Owen are war poets.
Rupert Brooke is rather a pre-war poet. Brooke’s entire reputation as a war poet rests on only 5 “war sonnets”. Brooke’s war experience consisted of one day of limited military action with the Hood Battalion during the evacuation of Antwerp. Consequently, his “war sonnets” swell with sentiments of the most general kind on the themes of maturity, purpose, and romantic death – the kind of sentiments held by many (but not all) young Englishmen at the outbreak of the war. Brooke’s “war sonnets” are really more a declaration occasioned by the ups and downs of his tumultuous personal life than a call to war for his generation.
Rupert Brooke’s Literary Works
Brooke’s first collection Poems was published in 1911; “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,” Brooke’s tribute to a lovely village near Cambridge, appeared in 1912; the Georgian glorified England in its traditional and idyllic form. Brooke was one of the Georgian poets of the early 1900s in England; the Georgians wrote idealistic and traditional romantic poetry about nature and the pleasures of rural living. The poet’s most famous work, the sonnet sequence 1914 and Other Poems, was published in the year of his death. These poems continue the boyish idealism of his earlier poetry.
The poem “The Soldier” is taken from that collection. Brooke also composed poems about nature and love, but he is best known for a sequence of patriotic war sonnets published in 1915, after his death. The Sonnet expresses the patriotic idealism that was the mood of England during the early years of the war. His most famous war poem is “The Soldier.” It is the last in a series of five sonnets composed shortly after the outbreak of World War I.
He was a man of dazzling fame in his life, for his patriotic ideas, because of the socio-political climate of the time. He glorified war and England. The poem “Soldier” (If I should die) is an example.