Sunday, 25 July 2010

The problem with Rupert...

Like all who read or study poetry, I pride myself on good taste. However, there is just one problem that refuses to go away, and it is this...

                    'Twas when I was in Neu Strelitz
                    I broke my little heart in bits.

                    So while I sat on the Muritz train
                    I glued the bits together again.

                    But when I got to Amerhold
                    I felt the glue would never hold.

                    And now that I'm home to Barton Hill
                    I know once broken is broken still.
                                                       'Travel' (1912), Rupert Brooke

I mean, it's silly really. It could be a nursery rhyme, or a child's mnemonic device for remembering German cities. True to the epithet, I have it word-for-word, ti-tum ti-tum, engraved on my brain. It's metrically regular, uses pathetically simple full-rhyme, and revolves around one single, cliched conceit - the broken heart. And yet, I love it.

Rupert Brooke, like the other turn-of-the-century romantic D. H. Lawrence, has recently begun to rise in popularity after a period of being generally regarded as over-sentimental, flowery and old-fashioned. When asking my (slightly more mature) English professor as to his thoughts on old Rupert, he replied that 'When I was at University, nobody I knew read Rupert Brookes. It just wasn't serious poetry'. I have to admit that I can't help but balk at lines like 'the inenarabble godhead of delight' and 'the stars, a jolly company' and 'lithe children lovelier than a dream'.

But then, Brooke was a young poet; he started writing at the age of 16, and died when he was just gaining readership at the age of 28. It is perhaps surprising then that his poems are relentlessly reflective, concerning themselves with nostalgia and the nature of reminiscence. Whether pondering on lovers, England, ancient civilizations or the Great War, his poetry is scattered with ghosts:

                As the Wind, and as the Wind,
                     In a corner of the way,
               Goes skipping, twirling,
               Invisibly, comes whirling,
               Bows before, and skips behind,
                     In a grave, an endless play - 

               So my heart, and so my Heart,
                    Following where your feet have gone,
               Stirs dust of old dreams there;
               He turns a toe; he gleams there,
               Treading you a dance apart.
                    But you see not. You pass on.
                                                          'The Dance', 1915

Delicate, pretty rhymes perhaps, but also something of sincerity in the simple lines. It is precisely this fragility which perfectly echos the theme. As entities, the poems exist just as the objects of his loss, ephemeral and shimmering. It is my view that his shorter poems really excel in this quality, much like Blake's 'Songs of Innocence'. The bleak 'Song' demonstrates this beautifully:

                The way of Love was thus.
                He was born, one winter morn,
                With hands delicious.
                And it was well with us.

               Love came our quiet way,
               Lie pride in us, and died in us,
               All in a winter's day.
               There is no more to say.
                                              'Song', 1913

He speaks easily and affectingly, without having to say much at all. Of course, he also presents us with the surprising wit of 'Sonnet Reversed' ('They left three children (besides George, who drank)') and dark realization in 'Lust' ('my heart beneath your hand / Quieter than a dead man on a bed'). 

It's slightly embarrassing, and every student instinct I have screams against it, but there is something about Rupert Brooke's poetry which I find so, well, perfect. I don't know, maybe I'm getting old.


1 comment:

  1. I've enjoyed this article, please might I contact you about it? Thanks, Lorna