The Most Handsome Man in the World

I have written before about my love of words and poetry.  In an earlier blog I talked about some of my favourite poets.  Among them were Robert Frost and Rudyard Kipling.

At school we had an English teacher (Miss English by name) who was reputed to have been engaged to Rupert Brooke the poet who wrote:

IF I should die, think only this of me;
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
There shall be  in that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
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.

W B Yeats (the Irish poet) described Brooke at the Most Handsome Man in the World.  Photos show that possibly was correct at the time, although of course, as years pass thoughts on handsome and pretty change.

Rupert Brooke

via Wikipedia

At school we took at face value the story of the engagement and the marriage that never came to be because of the death of Rupert Brooke.

However, I recently came across a book about Brooke at the library entitled Rupert Brooke, Life, Death and Myth.  I learned that he was educated at Rugby where his father was a housemaster and then went on to win a scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge where his uncle was the Dean.  Here he read Classics followed by English Literature and became involved with the Marlowe Dramatic Society where he met such luminaries as Virginia Woolf.  Woolf described him as:

 ” . . .all that could be kind and interesting, substantial and good-hearted . . . he had such a gift with people, and such sanity and force . . .”

And it was this gift with people that found him a member of the large group of intellectuals and writers that Woolf named ‘The Neo Pagansand it was in this group that Brooke became ‘enchanted’ with a young woman Noel Olivier.

Brooke fell in love with the 15-year-old Olivier when he was 20, but it appears that the love was not reciprocated.   Noel Olivier kept their letters but she steadfastly refused to have them published until after her death.  The letters were  then published by Pipi Harris under the title Song of Love.  They show an exchange filled with  romantic longing, self-reflection and  self-discovery.   Brooke discusses his depression, makes threats of suicide and writes of a love affair with Katherine Cox, whom he rejected as “unclean” after she responded to his sexual advances.  He becomes angry,  possessive, whining and insecure while Olivier is feisty, more level-headed and determined to pursue her career in medicine.  She rejected his proposal of marriage which perhaps played a part in his subsequent physical and mental breakdown.

He was most definitely a confused young man.  There are tales of his involvement in  the homosexual Cambridge secret society “the Apostles”.  Of course, at the time homosexuality and bi-sexuality were not admitted to by polite society, and so addicted to secrecy, he was loved by both men and women, and was himself highly sexually ambivalent.

So in all of this I now (some 60 years later) reject the claim that our Miss English was engaged to be married to The Most Handsome Man in the World.  But oh how it made our teenage hearts beat with sorrow for this couple and the woman doomed to live out her spinster’s life dreaming of what might have been.

Incidentally, this woman introduced me to the great poets of England and elsewhere and I while  Rupert Brooke has fallen from favour over the years I still enjoy reading his poetry.



12 responses to “The Most Handsome Man in the World

  1. I am entertained when I think of all those ‘societies’ and groups that took place behind the scenes. Regardless of the behavior, it seems innocent. Nowadays, these ‘societies’ and groups still exist, but it is published and shared wildly throughout social media outlets. There is a beauty in discretion, I think, regardless of one’s opinion on the behaviors.

    He was handsome. Your English teacher gave you a gift when she shared the poetic works of various authors with her students – an everlasting gift.


  2. A haunting story Judith. Miss English surely used her spinsterhood and imaginary engagement to encourage her students. I believe the best artists and poets are inspired by deep seated longings, loneliness and self examination. Thanks so much for sharing this.


  3. Christine in Los Angeles

    Many of our teachers were quite old – one of our teachers had taught our Father and his brothers and sisters, but WWII brought them out of retirement. Because of the heavy loss of life in WWI, many of the elderly women we knew, were condemned to spinsterhood – there just was not enough men to go around. Such a sad thing; most of our teachers were kind and loving women, who might’ve made wonderful wives and mothers.
    Lovely post, Middle Sister.
    God bless, Christine


    • Oh how I remember those women, from Dr Hunt, Miss Harris, Miss Fair, Miss Illingworth etc. all made a lasting impression on me, and mostly good.
      Thank youf or the comment big sister.


  4. Pingback: Rupert Brooke | justanotherblog

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  6. TY for sharing Rubert Brooke… Miss English reminds me of one of my school teachers too. 😉


  7. Thanks Elizabeth. My Miss English played a large role in my learning to love words and the English language. I am glad you could find similarities with one of your teachers too. 😀


  8. Interesting story in a writer I am only vaguely familiar with. I had a high school English teacher, Mr. Connelly, who made me love literature because of his passion for it. I remember reading and loving Giants in the Earth, by Rolvaag while I was in his class. And I had an 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Bachelor, who taught me about archetypes. Thanks for making me think about these two great teachers again, Judith.


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