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Rupert Brooke: the best of the war poets


Rupert Brooke

Rupert Brooke

Photograph: Sherril Schell/Getty

Rupert Brooke

This year is the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landings during the First World War. Last month our President, Michael D Higgins, laid a wreath in honour of Irish soldiers who died there.

The consequences of the Gallipoli campaign for Ireland were enormous. Three thousand men of the 10th Irish Division were lost and many thousands more injured. A botched strategy by Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, was the main reason for the disaster. Australians and New Zealanders, along with the Irish, bore the brunt of the terrible slaughter on the Turkish coast.

Rupert Brooke, the English poet, was on his way out to the Mediterranean to fight when he got blood poisoning and died on a French hospital ship moored in a bay off the island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea.

It angers me when people suggest that Brooke was not a good poet, just a patriotic publicist. He was perhaps the best of all the war poets.

One disadvantage he had was that he was almost too good looking and many were jealous of him with his English fair hair and blue eyes. But he was also a champion boxer and an excellent football player at Rugby School, where his father was the headmaster.

His poem 'The Soldier' has become the best known of any written during the war. Its rhythm evokes the English landscape, and reading it you are brought back to the loveliness of that green and pleasant land.

The Soldier

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there's some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust conceal'd;

A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,

Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,

A body of England's, breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Rupert Brooke 1887-1915

Indo Review