The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke: With a Memoir/Memoir/Part VIII
Of the 'golden phrases,' only the merest fragments remain. He must have made up more in his head than he wrote down, for his last letter to me implies a good deal more than there is. "The first few days afloat I was still convalescent. So I could lie in my bunk and read and write in a delicious solitude all day. I actually did jot down a line or two. Nothing yet complete (except a song, worthless alone, for Denis to put lovely notes around); but a sonnet or two almost done; and the very respectable and shapely skeleton of an ode-threnody. All of which shall travel to you if and when they are done. . . . . . . I must go and censor my platoon's cxlixletters. My long poem is to be about the existence—and non-locality—of England. And it contains the line—'In Avons of the heart her rivers run.' Lovely, isn't it?"
There is only a small black note-book, from which I will put together what I can. There will be found in the appendix the little song called The Dance, mentioned in the letter; and a fragment which is almost his only attempt at blank verse—though even here rhyme steals in towards the end. Here are the scraps which seem to belong to the 'ode-threnody' on England:
All things are written in the mind.
There the sure hills have station; and the wind
Blowsin that placeless air.
And there the white and golden birds go flying;
And the stars wheel and shine; and woods are fair;
The light upon the snow is there;
and in that nowhere move
The trees and hills and waters that we love.
And she for whom we die, she the undying
Mother of men
In Avons of the heart her rivers run.
She is with all we have loved and found and known,
Closed in the little nowhere of the brain.
clOnly, of all our dreams,
Not the poor heap ofdust and stone,
This local earth, set in terrestrial streams,
Not this man, giving all for gold,
Nor that who has found evil good, nor these
Blind millions, bought and sold . . .
She is not here, or now—
She is here, and now, yet nowhere—
We gave her birth, who bore us—
Our wandering feet have sought, but never found her—
She is built a long way off—
She, though all men be traitors, not betrayed—
Whose soil is love, and her stars justice, she—
Gracious with flowers,
And robedand glorious in the sea.
She was in his eyes, but he could not see her.
And he was England, but he knew her not.
There are fragments of other poems; two about the expedition:
They say Achilles in the darkness stirred,
AndHector, his old enemy,
Moved the great shades that were his limbs. They heard
More than Olympian thunder on the sea.
cliDeath and Sleep
Bear many a young Sarpedon home.
And this, headed 'Queen Elizabeth':
And Priam and his fifty sons
Wake all amazed, and hear the guns,
And shake for Troy again.
Then there is this:—
'When Nobby tried,' the stokers say,
'To stop a shrapnel with his belly,
He left a lump of bleeding jelly.'
But he went out, did Nobby Clark
Upon the illimitable dark,
Out of the fields where soldiers stray,
Beyond parades, beyond reveille.
This is for one of the sonnets:
The poor scrap of a song that some man tried
Down in the troop-decks forrard, brought again
The day you sang it first, on a hill-side,
With April in the wind and in the brain.
And the woods were gold; and youth was in our hands.
cliiOh lovers parted,
Oh all you lonely over all the world,
You that look out at morning empty-hearted,
Or you, all night turning uncomforted
Would God, would God, you could be comforted.
Eyes that weep,
And a long time for love; and, after, sleep.
There are lines of a poem about evening, in which he recurs to the hares in the Grantchester cornfields:
And daylight, like a dust, sinks through the air,
And drifting, golds the ground . . .
A voice in heaven, in fading deeps of light,
Drops, at length, home.
A wind of night, shy as the young hare
That steals even now out of the corn to play,
Stirs the pale river once, and creeps away.
And of an elegy:
The feet that ran with mine have found their goal,
The eyes that met my eyes have looked on night.
The firm limbs are no more; gone back to earth,
Easily mingling . . . What he is yet,
Not living, lives, hath place in a few minds . . .
The ungathered blossom of quiet; stiller he
Than a deep well at noon, or lovers met;
Than sleep, or the heart after wrath. He is
The silence following great words of peace.
That is all.
On the 17th of April they landed at Scyros. Arthur Asquith described it to his sister before anything had happened: "This island is more mountainous than Lemnos, and more sparsely inhabited. It is like one great rock-garden of white and pinkish-white marble, with small red poppies and every sort of wildflower; in the gorges ilex, dwarf holly, and occasional groups of olives; and everywhere the smell of thyme (or is it sage? or wild mint?). Our men kill adders and have fun with big tortoises. The water near the shore, where the bottom is white marble, is more beautifully green and blue than I have ever seen it anywhere."
Here then, in the island where Theseus was buried, and whence the young Achilles and the young Pyrrhus were called to Troy, Rupert Brooke died and was buried on Friday, the 23rd of April, the day of Shakespeare and of St George.
He seemed quite well till Tuesday the 20th, when there was a Divisional Field-day, and he went to bed tired immediately after dinner. On Wednesday he stayed in bed with pains in his back and head, and a swelling on his lip; but no anxiety was felt till the evening, when he had a temperature of 103. clivNext morning he was much worse; the swelling had increased, and a consultation was held. The diagnosis was acute blood-poisoning, and all hope was given up. It was decided to move him to the French hospital-ship Duguay-Trouin which happened to be at Seyros. When he was told this, his one anxiety was lest he should have difficulty in rejoining his battalion. They reassured him, and he seemed to be content. Soon afterwards he became comatose; and there does not seem to have been any moment when he can have realised that he was dying. The rest of the story shall be told in the words of the letter which Denis Browne wrote me on the 25th from the transport.
"In less than half an hour we had carried him down into a pinnace and taken him straight aboard the Duguay-Trouin. They put him in the best cabin, on the sun-deck. Everything was very roomy and comfortable; they had every modern appliance and the surgeons did all that they possibly could. Oc and I left him about 6 when we could do nothing more, and went to the Franconia, where we sent a wireless message to the Admiralty. Next clvmorning Oc and I went over to see what we could do, and found him much weaker. There was nothing to be done, as he was quite unconscious and they were busy trying all the devices they could think of to give him ease. Not that he was suffering, for he was barely conscious all Thursday (he just said 'Hallo' when I went to lift him out into the pinnace), and on Friday he was not conscious at all up to the very last, and felt no pain whatever. At 2 the head surgeon told me he was sinking. Oc went off to see about arrangements, and I sat with Rupert. At 4 o'clock he became weaker, and at 4.46 he died, with the sun shining all round his cabin, and the cool sea-breeze blowing through the door and the shaded windows. No one could have wished a quieter or a calmer end than in that lovely bay, shielded by the mountains and fragrant with sage and thyme.
"We buried him the same evening in an olive-grove where he had sat with us on Tuesday—one of the loveliest places on this earth, with grey-green olives round him, one weeping above his head; the ground covered with flowering sage, bluish-grey, and smelling more delicious than any flower I know. The path up to it from the sea is narrow and difficult and very stony; it runs by the bed of a dried-up torrent. We had to post men with lamps every twenty yards to guide the bearers. He was carried up from the boat by his A Company petty officers, led by his platoon-sergeant Saunders; and it was with enormous difficulty that they got the coffin clviup the narrow way. The journey of a mile took two hours. It was not till 11 that I saw them coming (I had gone up to choose the place, and with Freyberg and Charles Lister I turned the sods of his grave; we had some of his platoon to dig). First came one of his men carrying a great white wooden cross with his name painted on it in black; then the firing-party, commanded by Patrick; and then the coffin, followed by our officers, and General Paris and one or two others of the Brigade. Think of it all under a clouded moon, with the three mountains around and behind us, and those divine scents everywhere. We lined his grave with all the flowers we could find, and Quilter set a wreath of olive on the coffin. The funeral service was very simply said by the Chaplain, and after the Last Post the little lamp-lit procession went once again down the narrow path to the sea.
"Freyberg, 0c, I, Charles and Cleg [Kelly] stayed behind and covered the grave with great pieces of white marble which were lying everywhere about. Of the cross at the head you know; it was the large one that headed the procession. On the back of it our Greek interpreter wrote in pencil
ὁ δοῦλος τοῦ Θεοῦ
ἀποθανὼν ὑπὲρ τῆς
clviiΚων· πόυλεως ἀπὸ
At his feet was a small wooden cross sent by his platoon. We could not see the grave again, as we sailed from Scyros next morning at 6."
The same friend wrote to Mrs Brooke: "No words of mine can tell you the sorrow of those whom he has left behind him here. No one of us knew him without loving him, whether they knew him for ten years, as I did, or for a couple of months as others. His brother officers and his men mourn him very deeply. But those who knew him chiefly as a poet of the rarest gifts, the brightest genius, know that the loss is not only yours and ours, but the world's. And beyond his genius there was that infinitely lovable soul, that stainless heart whose earthly death can only be the beginning of a true immortality.
"To his friends Rupert stood for something so much purer, greater, and nobler than ordinary men that his loss seems more explicable than theirs. He has gone to where he came from; but if anyone left the world richer by passing through it, it was he."
Next morning the Grantully Castle sailed for the Gallipoli Peninsula. Within six weeks, of the officers named in Denis Browne's letter, he and Colonel Quilter were dead, and all but one of the others had clviiibeen wounded. Kelly, Lister, and Shaw-Stewart have since been killed.
Winston Churchill wrote in the Times of April 26th: "Rupert Brooke is dead. A telegram from the Admiral at Lemnos tells us that this life has closed at the moment when it seemed to have reached its springtime. A voice had become audible, a note had been struck, more true, more thrilling, more able to do justice to the nobility of our youth in arms engaged in this present war, than any other—more able to express their thoughts of self-surrender, and with a power to carry comfort to those who watched them so intently from afar. The voice has been swiftly stilled. Only the echoes and the memory remain; but they will linger.
"During the last few months of his life, months of preparation in gallant comradeship and open air, the poet-soldier told with all the simple force of genius the sorrow of youth about to die, and the sure triumphant consolations of a sincere and valiant spirit. He expected to die; he was willing to die for the dear England whose beauty and majesty he knew; and he advanced towards the brink in perfect serenity, with absolute conviction of the rightness of his country's cause, and a heart devoid of hate for fellow-men.
"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, the cruellest, and the least-clixrewarded 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."
. . . . . .
"Coming from Alexandria yesterday," Denis Browne wrote to me on June 2nd, two days before his own death, "we passed Rupert's island at sunset. The sea and sky in the East were grey and misty; but it stood out in the West, black and immense, with a crimson glowing halo round it. Every colour had come into the sea and sky to do him honour; and it seemed that the island must ever be shining with his glory that we buried there."
- The word 'hands' is written here, I think by mistake for 'hills.' Compare 'the trees and waters and the hills' in his early poem, The Charm.
- This last set of lines, or rather jottings, is not written as if they were meant to be consecutive.
- All sailors whose name is Clark are nick-named Nobby. No one knows why.
- "I do want you to feel," Browne wrote to Mrs Brooke, that nothing was left undone that could alleviate his condition or prolong his life. Nothing, however, all the doctors, French and English, assured me, could have helped him to fight his disease, except a strong constitution. And his was so enfeebled by illness as to make the contest an unequal one. They gave us hardly any hope from the first."
- The telegrams were received as if from Lemnos, and as there was so reason to suppose otherwise it was assumed, and published, that he had died there.
- This sentence is from the letter to Mrs Brooke.
- Their names are Paphko, Komaro, and Khokilas.
- Here lies the servant of God, Sub-Lieutenant in the English Navy, who died for the deliverance of Constantinople from the Turks.