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.
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 Pagans” and 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.