Thursday 8 December 2016

War poet's playful side revealed

Published 17/01/2012 | 17:18

A hand-coloured copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 (Cambridge University Library/PA)
A hand-coloured copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493 (Cambridge University Library/PA)
A poem entitled The Baby by war poet Rupert Brooke (Cambridge University Library/PA)
First World War poet Rupert Brooke's poem The Baby is to go on display at a new exhibition at Cambridge University Library

As a war poet, Rupert Brooke is best known for his sombre subject matter - but now a poem describing a baby's bottom is to go on display, revealing his more playful side.

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Brooke is best known for his 1914 poem The Soldier, which begins "If I should die, think only this of me: that there's some corner of a foreign field, that is for ever England."

But experts say the little known verse The Baby, uncovered in the University of Cambridge's library, provides a rare insight into his sense of humour.

It is a tongue-in-cheek parody of fellow poet Algernon Charles Swinburne, known for his florid style. It contains lines such as "the twin pink perfect hemispheres" to describe a baby's buttocks.

A university spokesman said: "The Baby is far from a lost masterpiece, but the manuscript nevertheless reveals a playful and comedic side to Brooke unfamiliar from his iconic war sonnets."

The poem is among treasures from the archive of the University of Cambridge's library, published in a collection which opens to the public on Wednesday.

Shelf Lives: Four Centuries of Collectors and their Books celebrates some of the men and women who have donated their libraries to Cambridge University over the past four hundred years. It brings together the cream of 10 collections encompassing more than a millennium of the written and printed word.

Exhibits include a hand-coloured copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle of 1493, which charted world history and is regarded as one of the most magnificent printed books of the fifteenth century.

A velvet-bound sermon book belonging to Queen Elizabeth I will share exhibition space with hand-written manuscripts by John Donne and Virginia Woolf and trench journals, produced by troops for troops while in action during the First World War.

University librarian Anne Jarvis said: "Cambridge University library is one of the largest accumulations of books and manuscripts in Europe, and one of the most important in the world. "Its holdings, though, are not a single, uniform entity, but consist of a great variety of different collections which over the centuries have come to be housed under one roof and now enrich the national heritage."

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