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Rupert Brooke (Rupert Chawner Brooke) Biography

(1887–1915), (Rupert Chawner Brooke), Lithuania, Poems, Georgian Poetry, jeunesse dorée, Westminster Gazette, Letters from America

‘the poems war reputation

British poet, born in Rugby, educated at King's College, Cambridge, where he was president of the Fabian Society and became a fellow in 1913. In 1911 and 1912 he lived in Germany, where he wrote a melodrama entitled Lithuania (1915) and numerous poems, of which ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ is the best-known. His first collection, Poems, appeared in 1911. He subsequently assisted Edward Marsh in planning the Georgian Poetry series (191222), the first of which did much to advance his reputation. Brooke's circle of acquaintances widened to include most of the influential writers of the day; referred to by W. B. Yeats as ‘the most beautiful man in England’, his eminence among the pre-war jeunesse dorée contributed to his enormous posthumous fame. In 1913 he visited the USA, Canada, and the Pacific Islands while convalescing from a nervous disorder and produced a series of articles for the Westminster Gazette; some were later published, with a preface by Henry James, as Letters from America (1916). The trip also resulted in some of his best poems, collected in 1914 and Other Poems (1915) under the section heading ‘The South Seas’. After his return in 1914 he volunteered for active service and received a commission with the Royal Naval Division. On a brief expedition to Antwerp he witnessed scenes of misery which strengthened his zeal for the British cause, and shortly afterwards produced the five sonnets forming the title sequence of 1914. These were published in New Numbers early in 1915. The following Easter Sunday ‘The Soldier’ (‘If I should die, think only this of me …’) was read from the pulpit by the Dean of St Paul's; a report including the sonnet's text in The Times elevated Brooke to the embodiment of self-sacrificing idealism. By the time news of this reached him he had fallen ill on his way to the Dardanelles; he died on 23 April of septicaemia aboard a French hospital ship. The Poetical Works (1946) was edited by Sir Geoffrey Keynes. His monumental reputation declined with the waning popularity of Georgian Poetry in the 1920s. Among poets engaged in the war, the reaction against his work came swiftly; Charles Hamilton Sorley was among the first dissenters, remarking in 1915 on the falseness of Brooke's ‘sentimental attitude’. Biographies include those by Christopher Hassall (1964) and John Lehmann (1980).

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