Described by none other than W.B. Yeats as “the handsomest man in England” Brooke is the quintessential war poet. A product of Rugby school and Cambridge University, a confused bisexual, steamy good looks, went skinny dipping with Virginia Wolfe, associated with the Bloomsbury set of poets. He had a nervous breakdown in 1912 and toured the world as part of his recovery process. He may have fathered a child with a Tahitian woman along the way.
When the first world war began Brookes poems “The dead” and “The Soldier” captured the mood of the nation and brought him to the attention of Winston Churchill, first Lord of the Admiralty. He was commissioned as a naval officer and sailed for Gallipoli. He died of an infected mosquito bite before the fleet reached Turkey. He is buried on the Greek Island of Skyros.
Here is a funnier and less heroic poem from the pen of someone who is way too godlike for his own good.
A Channel Passage; by Rupert Brooke
The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could think hard of only one thing — YOU!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
Now there’s a choice — heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!
Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The sobs and slobber of a last years woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ‘Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ‘twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.