In the early days of the Great War, the phrase ‘war poet’ had a different meaning from that which it was to assume later on.
If, later on, it would mean someone such as Siegfried Sassoon who understood full well the horror and pointlessness of the conflict, in 1914 it meant a poet who echoed the popular mood of patriotism and readiness for sacrifice.
Rupert Brooke, a young man of remarkable good looks and much charm who was already known in establishment circles and who died on active service on his way to the Dardanelles, seemed to fit the role perfectly and was accordingly extremely popular.
But, as time went by and the phrase ‘war poetry’ was no longer limited to poems expressing patriotic fervour, his popularity waned greatly. Attempts have recently been made to revive it by praising his light verse (‘Stands the church clock at half past three/ And is there honey still for tea?) But though it is witty there is nothing light about ‘Heaven’. It is satirical, sardonic and manages to touch on very large philosophical or perhaps theological questions.
Fish (fly-replete, in depths of June,
Dawdling away their watery noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.
Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
Not here the appointed End, not here!
But somewhere, beyond Space and Time,
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin,
The littlest fish may enter in.
Oh, never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.