|←Memoir on the Life of Rupert Brooke: VI||Memoir on the Life of Rupert Brooke: VII
|Memoir on the Life of Rupert Brooke: VIII→|
|From The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke: With a Memoir.|
On January 29th he came to London to recover from a rather bad attack of influenza, staying first at Gray's Inn and then at 10 Downing Street. I saw him for the last time on February 25th, when the King reviewed the Naval Division at Blandford before their departure for the Dardanelles. The secret of where they were going was just out, and everyone was wild with excitement and joy. "It's too wonderful for belief," he wrote to Miss Asquith. "I had not imagined Fate could be so benign. I almost suspect her. Perhaps we shall be held in reserve, out of sight, on a choppy sea, for two months. . . . Yet even that ! . . . But I'm filled with confident and glorious hopes. I've been looking at the maps. Do you think perhaps the fort on the Asiatic corner will want quelling, and we'll land and come at it from behind, and they'll make a sortie and meet us on the plains of Troy? It seems to me strategically so possible. Shall we have a Hospital Base (and won't you manage it?) on Lesbos? Will Hero's Tower crumble under the 15" guns ? Will the sea be polyphloisbic and wine-dark and unvintageable? Shall I loot mosaics from St Sophia, and Turkish Delight, and carpets? Should we be a Turning Point in History? Oh God!
"I've never been quite so happy in my life, I think. Not quite so pervasively happy; like a stream flowing entirely to one end. I suddenly realise that the ambition of my life has been - since I was two - to go on a military expedition against Constantinople. And when I thought I was hungry or sleepy or aching to write a poem - that was what I really, blindly, wanted. This is nonsense. Goodnight. I'm very tired with equipping my platoon." They sailed from Avonmouth in the Grantully Castle on February 28th. "Four days out," he dated his next letter to Miss Asquith. "All day we've been just out of sight of land, thirty or forty miles away out of sight, but in smell. There was something earthy in the air, and warm like the consciousness of a presence in the dark the wind had something Andalusian in it. It wasn't that wall of scent and invisible blossom and essential spring that knocks you flat, quite suddenly, as you've come round some unseen corner in the atmosphere, fifty miles out from a South Sea Island; but it was the good smell of land - and of Spain, too! And Spain I've never seen, and never shall see, may be. All day I sat and strained my eyes to see over the horizon orange-groves and Moorish buildings, and dark-eyed beauties and guitars, and fountains, and a golden darkness. But the curve of the world lay between us. Do you know Jan [Masefield]'s favourite story - told very melodiously with deep-voice reverence - about Columbus? Columbus wrote a diary (which Jan reads) and described the coast of America as he found it the divinest place in the world. 'It was only like the Paradise of the Saints of God' and then he remembered that there was one place equal to it, the place where he was born and goes on 'or like the gardens of Andalusia in the spring.' "
He wrote to me from 'North of Tunis' on March 7th. "It seems ages ago since we said good-bye to you on our mottled parade-ground. We've had rather a nice voyage; a bit unsteady the first day (when I was sick) and to-day; otherwise very smooth and delicious. There has been a little, not much, to do. I've read most of Turkey in Europe. But what with parades and the reading of military books, I've not written anything. Anyway, my mind's always a blank at sea.
"For two days we've been crawling along the African Coast, observing vast tawny mountains, with white villages on this side of them and white peaks beyond. The sea has been a jewel, and sunset and dawn divine blazes of colour. It's all too ridiculously peaceful for one to believe anything but that we're a rather odd lot of tourists, seeing the Mediterranean and bent on enjoyment. War seems infinitely remote; and even the reason, foreseeing Gallipoli, yet admits that there are many blue days to come, and the Cyclades. . . . . .
"I can well see that life might be great fun; and I can well see death might be an admirable solution. . . . . .
" In a fortnight, the quarter million Turks."
I think these words on the prospect of living or dying represent his normal state of mind; and that he had nothing which could justly be called a presentiment of death. "This is very odd," was the beginning of a letter which he wrote for me in case he died. " But I suppose I must imagine my non- existence, and make a few arrangements." He certainly spoke to some people as though he were sure of not coming back; but no one can read the letters I have printed without seeing what a creature of moods he was; and it was always his way to dramatise the future. There was a vivid realisation of the possibility - I believe that was all. He spoke in the letter I have just quoted of a wish he had expressed to his Mother (which she has carried out), that any money he left, and any profits from his books, should be divided between three of his brother poets. "If I can set them free to any extent," he told her, "to write the poetry and plays and books they want to, my death will bring more gain than loss." The three were Lascelles Abercrombie, Walter de la Mare, and Wilfrid Gibson.
" We had a very amusing evening in Malta," he wrote to his Mother on March 12th. "Our boat got in one afternoon almost last of the lot. We were allowed ashore from 5 to midnight. Oc Denis and I drove round in a funny little carriage, and looked at the views. It's a very lovely place; very like Verona or any Italian town, but rather cleaner and more Southern. There was a lovely Mediterranean sunset and evening, and the sky and sea were filled with colours. The odd and pleasant thing was the way we kept running into people we knew and hadn't expected to meet. First there were people in all the other battalions, who had come on by other boats. Then we found 'Cardy' [Lionel] Montagu, E.S.M.'s brother, staring at the Cathedral. Then Cherry, who used to be in the Anson with us, a nice chap, and he dined with us; and in, at the end of dinner, came Patrick Shaw-Stewart (of this Battalion) with Charles Lister, who was dragged in absolutely at the last moment because he is supposed to know Turkish, and is with the Divisional Staff. Before dinner, as I was buying buttons in a little shop, in walked George Peel! And after dinner, at a nice little opera, everyone I knew seemed to appear, in khaki, all very cheerful and gay. Lots of people who we thought were going to be left behind had been able to get out at the last moment, and pounced on us from behind boxes or out of stalls. The Maltese élite who were there must have been puzzled at the noise."
From Malta they went on to Lemnos; "the loveliest place in the evening sun," he wrote, "softly white, grey, silver-white buildings, some very old, some new, round a great harbour - all very Southern; like an Italian town in silver-point, livable and serene, with a sea and sky of opal and pearl and faint gold around. It was nearer than any place I've ever seen to what a Greek must have witnessed when he sailed into a Greek coast-city."
Here there was an alarum, but not an excursion, as appears from a letter to Miss Cox, dated " Somewhere (some way from the front) March 19th." "The other day we - some of us - were told that we sailed next day to make a landing. A few thousand of us. Off we stole that night through the phosphorescent Aegean, scribbling farewell letters, and snatching periods of excited dream-broken sleep. At four we rose, buckled on our panoply, hung ourselves with glasses, compasses, periscopes, revolvers, food, and the rest, and had a stealthy large breakfast. That was a mistake. It's ruinous to load up one's belly four or five hours before it expects it - it throws the machinery out of gear for a week. I felt extremely ill the rest of that day.
"We paraded in silence under paling stars along the sides of the ship. The darkness on the sea was full of scattered flashing lights, hinting at our fellow- transports and the rest. Slowly the sky became warm and green, and the sea opal. Every- one's face looked drawn and ghastly. If we landed, my company was to be the first to land. . . . We made out that we were only a mile or two from a dim shore. I was seized with an agony of remorse that I hadn't taught my platoon a thousand things more energetically and competently. The light grew. The shore looked to be crammed with Fate, and was ominously silent. One man thought he saw a camel through his glasses ....
" There were some hours of silence.
" About seven, someone said, ' We're going home.' We dismissed the stokers, who said, quietly, 4 When's the next battle ? ', and disempanoplied, and had another breakfast. If we were a ' feint,' or if it was too rough to land, or in general, what little part we blindly played, we never knew, and shall not. Still, we did our bit, not ignobly, I trust. We did not see the enemy. We did not fire at them ; nor they at us. It seemed improbable they saw us. One of B Company she was rolling very slightly was sick on parade. Otherwise, no casualties. A notable battle.
" Later. We're off to Egypt : for repose. For
I imagine a month at least. What a life ! Another campaign over ! "
On March 27th they arrived at Port Said, and he went for three days' leave with Arthur Asquith and Patrick Shaw-Stewart to Cairo, where they saw the Sphinx and the Pyramids, rode about on camels, and bought things in the bazaars.
Sir Ian Hamilton came to Port Said to review the Naval Division on April 3rd, and offered him a post on his staff. " I saw Rupert Brooke," he wrote to me, " lying down under a shelter, rather off colour, poor boy. He had got a touch of the sun the previous day. It was nothing, and essentially he was looking in first-class physical condition. He very naturally would like to see this first adventure through with his own men ; after that I think he would like to come to me. It was very natural, and I quite under- stand it I should have answered the same in his case had I been offered a staff billet." Rupert never mentioned this offer to his brother-officers. " The first day I was sick," he wrote to his Mother, " before I got out of camp was the day when our new G.O.C.-in-Chief you'll know who that is reviewed us. I'd met him once or twice in London. He came to see me after the review and talked for a bit. He offered me a sort of galloper-aide-de-camp job on his staff : but I shan't take it. Anyhow, not now, not till this present job's over ; afterwards, if I've had enough of the regimental officer's work, I might like it." " But it's really so jolly," he wrote to me on the same occasion, " being with Oc and
Denis and Charles [Lister] and Patrick and Kelly, that it'd have to be very tempting company to per- suade me to give it up."
That evening he joined Patrick Shaw-Stewart, who had the same illness, at the Casino Hotel, " Then began nearly a week of comic alternations and vicissitudes in our humiliating complaint," Shaw-Stewart wrote to me. " The companionship in our two little beds was very close, but limited bj our mental state, which owing to starvation was for me complete vacuity. So we just lay opposite and grew our little beards, mine red, his golder brown, and made our little jokes at one another very good ones, I can't help thinking. Altogether if it hadn't been for the starvation and the uncom fortable beds and the terrible difficulty of making the Italian waiter understand (R. did better witl gesticulatory English than I with Italian, whicl made me furious) it was the best period of the wai for me. We were turned out rather quickly. Or the Friday morning, April 9th, we were ordered t< be aboard that evening if we were well enough which of course we both said we were. In my cas< there was no doubt I was : in R.'s I think it wai doubtful, and Colonel Quilter rather urged him t( stay behind if he still felt queer, but of course i would have been a difficult thing (morally) to do So we both went on board and stuck to our cabin for a day or two, R. emerging later than me. Jus at this time he seemed really pretty well (as well a at Blandford, which I think for him probably wasn' so very well) but a little listless."
Rupert himself wrote to Miss Asquith the day he left the hotel, " Anyhow here I am, well up on that difficult slope that leads from arrowroot, past chicken broth, by rice puddings, to eggs in milk, and so to eggs, and boiled fish, and finally (they say) chicken and fruit and even real meat. But that is still beyond the next crest. On ! on ! But while I shall be well, I think, for our first thrust into the fray, I shall be able to give my Turk, at the utmost, a kitten's tap. A diet of arrowroot doesn't build up violence. I am as weak as a pacifist."
About the same time he wrote to Lascelles Aber- crombie: "The Sun-God (he, the Song-God) dis- tinguished one of his most dangerous rivals since Marsyas among the x thousand tanned and dirty men blown suddenly on these his special coasts a few days or weeks ago. He unslung his bow . ... I lie in an hotel, cool at length, with wet cloths on my head and less than nothing in my belly. Sunstroke is a bloody affair. It breaks very suddenly the fair harmonies of the body and the soul. I'm lying recovering from it, living faintly on arrowroot and rice-puddings and milk ; passing from dream to dream, all faint and tasteless and pure as arrowroot itself. I shall be all right in time for the fighting, I hope and believe.
"Later (at sea). I know now what a campaign is. I had a suspicion from Antwerp. It is continual crossing from one place to another, and back, over dreamlike seas : anchoring, or halting, in the oddest places, for no one knows or quite cares how long : drifting on, at last, to some other equally unex-
pected, equally out of the way, equally odd spot : for all the world like a bottle in some corner of the bay at a seaside resort. Somewhere, sometimes, there is fighting. Not for us. In the end, no doubt, our apparently aimless course will drift us through, or anchor us in, a blaze of war, quite suddenly ; and as suddenly swirl us out again. Meanwhile, the laziest loitering lotus- day I idled away as a wanderer in the South Seas was a bustle of decision and purpose compared to a campaign.
" One just hasn't, though, the time and detach- ment to write, I find. But I've been collecting a few words, detaching lines from the ambient air, collaring one or two of the golden phrases that a certain wind blows from (will the Censor let me say ?) Olympus, across these purple seas."
- The preoccupation with the idea of death, shown in his poems from the first, has often been noticed. When I looked through his copy of Aristophanes, I was struck by a heavy triple mark which he had put against two lines of the Frogs - almost the only passage he had marked at all:
τεθνηκὁςιν γἀρ ἓλεγεν, ῶ μοχθηρἐ σύ,
οίς ούδε τρίς λἐγοντες ἐξικούμεθα.
"Aye, but he's speaking to the dead, you knave,
Who cannot hear us though we call them thrice."
(B. B. Rogers' translation.)
This may have suggested the phrase about the 'unanswering dead' in Ambarvalia, which occurs again in a fragment, probably written in 1914:-
" We have told you the last lies, unanswering Dead.
Farewell, we have said,
Knowing the Dead fare neither ill nor well."
- Mrs Brooke included in this bequest the amount of the Howland Memorial Prize, the first award of which was unanimously made to her son in 1916, after his death, by the Committee of the
Corporation of Yale University. The prize is given "in recognition
of some achievement of marked distinction in the field of literature
or fine arts or the science of government; and an important factor
in the selection is the idealistic element in the recipient's work."
Mr Charles Rowland wrote to Mrs Brooke announcing the award:
"You must have known already by many avenues of the feeling
about him in the United States of the sense of tenderness for his
youth, of the attitude of possession of him jointly with Englishmen
as one of the Masters of Song in our common tongue; and indeed
that he typifies the nobility of sacrifice for a cause that is ours as
well as yours."
The lecture, which by the terms of the gift was due from the
prizewinner, was delivered at Yale by Walter de la Mare in his
- Arthur Asquith